Originally written by Ian Chainey
A pet peeve as an introduction: Artists don’t always create art to make all-caps ART. Artists aren’t required to saddle ART and ride it towards immortality. Occasionally, they decide against casting themselves in bronze to endure the ages as an exemplary primate to be regaled by scholars and toasted during pub quizzes. No, sometimes artists create art only to create, to enjoy the mere act of creation. Because they’re artists and they’re good at creating. They create to have fun. Because they’re people and life is too feeble to be burdened by productive-by-objective-standards drudgery. And, final argument locked and loaded, doing things you’re good at feels awesome and fun, even if the ends don’t creep back into the black. So, yeah, artists have the right to feel awesome. To slum in the gutter if they wish. To take a break from their main modes and all that artin’. There’s nothing wrong with that in the least. Do your thing. Do that. Until they sell try to sell that. Then, well, things get complicated. Overcomplicated you say? Hey, critics are good at doing that.
— NSA Text Transcript – 2/21/2013, 10:58 AM PST. Sanford Parker -> Scott Kelly.
Mr. Parker: hey dude
Mr. Kelly: Hello Sanford.
Mr. Parker: whatcha doing this weekend?
Mr. Kelly: I’m considering taking a train through Middle America whilst listening to Paulstretched collages of Dvorák, Copeland, and Buddy Emmons. The train company returned my letter. The window dimensions appear to be suitable for maximized meditation.
Mr. Parker: oh so like you’re going to generate creative material for songs??
Mr. Kelly: No Sanford. I’m only going to look.
Mr. Parker: awesome
Mr. Kelly: Quite.
Mr. Parker: whelp just wanted to see if you wanted to record
Mr. Kelly: Sure, Sanford. Recording together sounds like a wonderful idea. Michael is in town, should we extend the invitation his way?
Mr. Parker: oh shit yes
Supergroups are funny little marketing designations. It’s supposed to make you feel safe even if the “super” prefix is only applicable in the eyes of the buyer. To 99% of the population, Corrections House – an “experimental” collective eliminating the degrees of separation between Neurosis, Eyehategod, Yakuza, Minsk, Buried at Sea, and a record rack of others – is just a group. However, if your prime period of music exploration happened to coincide with the advent of viable recommendations from friends’ MySpace pages, the awestruck qualification isn’t slack-jawed enough. C’mon, it’s a quartet of stone-cold song slayers! Living legends, even. We’ve given over years of life to them. We’ve identified ourselves with their sigils. So, betting on Corrections House‘s history appears to be the best value-wager you’ll find on the books. It feels extraordinary. It feels safe.
Is it really safe, though? We are after all, right or wrong, kept alive by predictions and expectations. It’s how we’ve managed to walk this rock for so long despite its never-ending attempts to boot us off. Our power of prognostication based on historical interpretation intends to put us in the best possible situation or to be the carrot leading us away from the ledge. And, on the surface, the supergroup logic checks out: Great thing plus great thing equals greater thing. Right? That’s the place to be, right? The safest spot, right?
Yet, anyone who had their eyes fucked out by last year’s Lakers (hopefully) knows it takes more than the potentiality of talent to succeed. Talent, in and of itself, does not beget results. It isn’t on/off. There’s an entire college blackboard of other variables coming into play. Sometimes it’s chemistry or the positive tension sparked from a lack there of. Sometimes it’s the drive and leadership of a solitary individual picking up the apathetic and coaxing out the others’ best selves. Sometimes, most frighteningly, it’s something we can never quite figure out. No matter the way, it’s always larger than the simplistic hocus pocus of names. We know this. But, believing in names’ power provides the path of least resistance, which is almost as good as the best possible situation if we’re including “research/work” as a modifier to the aforementioned Great Thing (a technical term) equation. Hey, we’re lazy. Of course, we also don’t want to get burned. But, holy shit, above all, we’re lazy.
C’mon, the logic does pass at a glance. We’ll buy in. Then we’ll wonder how we ended up in the Death Star trash compactor. Right?
— NSA Text Transcript – 2/22/2013, 1:58 AM PST. Group text message: Sanford Parker, Scott Kelly, Mike IX Williams.
Mr. Williams: SUP FUCKERS! got your text. We gonna do this?
Mr. Kelly: Hello Michael. I didn’t expect to receive a response so late. Please forgive me for typing in my bed clothes.
Mr. Parker: hey dude yeah you wanna get together this sat?
Mr. Williams: fuck yeah man. I was gonna do a Moth story slam but I’d rather rock it with you guys.
Mr. Kelly: I love their podcast.
Mr. Williams: sorry, autocorrect. That should read “keg stand.”
Mr. Parker: alright!
Mr. Williams: oh shit, you seen this vine of Bruce playing sax with an octopus and calling it sax on the beach???!
Mr. Parker: dying
Mr. Kelly: Laughing out loud, gentlemen!
Mr. Parker: we gotta call him
Mr. Williams: Brrrrrrrrrrrruuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuce!
There’s an inclination to rationalize the messy Last City Zero with an old critic cliche: “Hey, we’d probably like this more if the members were anonymous.” The rub – and it’s a big rub, one that’ll make your leg involuntarily twitch – is this album probably wouldn’t exist at all if it weren’t for the members. Their relative success allows all involved to take these detours. That’s the blessing. The curse: By knowing the names, we expect exponential greatness. The height of the ART bar one is meant to pole vault never lowers. It also doesn’t stay the same height. Once you’ve cleared it, it ticks upwards, waiting to be cleared again. These are our rules. Only progression counts. As self-aware, empathetic-if-it-suits-us spectators, we’ll put on our fairness-face (slightly furrowed brow, lips down-turned; MGM’s version of “stern”) and say things like, “Hey, this is pretty good for what it is!” or, “This is their best since [whatever respected album that’s not the plainly obvious one].” We’ll say these things, but we’ll always think, Why isn’t this better? We’ll chase artists with our version of their perfect ideal until one of us runs out of gas. Shitty for them: A lot less gas is expended by smirking at a computer screen.
Shittier: “Fun” sure doesn’t clear the ART bar. It’s not a substitute for ART, not from ARTists who have been pushed under the “serious” tag. (TIL: The bar never moves and you get a hell-hot brand pressed on your forehead reading: “ARTIST. WORK.” Why do we daydream of becoming musicians again?) We can taste “fun” like cocoa nibs in a cookie. Doing things for a lark isn’t acceptable for folks who can transcend. Why bother messing around with a good time when you can take years off your life talking to God for me or dropping an ice fishing line into the hole in your soul for me? We’ll think these things. They need to be blowing our minds while they have time! We’re selfish like that.
There are precedences. John McLaughlin jammed with Jimi, got caught on a cheap recorder he probably didn’t even know was running, and, years later, armchair shredders believe he got cut. Prince reached out to Miles Davis, passed some tapes, rightly tossed the results into a raspberry no-way, and still gots shit for constructing a snoozer after it accidentally leaked. Hey, why bother with the bunny hop if you’re not going to come close to the ART bar? We’ll, somehow, think that. We will. We just don’t think that’s the best place to be.
— NSA Text Transcript – 2/25/2013, 1:58 AM PST. Group text message: Sanford Parker, Scott Kelly, Mike IX Williams, Bruce Lamont.
Mr. Parker: dudes that was awesome thanks again
Mr. Williams: fuck yeah it was. Anytime
Mr. Lamont: death_metal_starfish_sax.gif
Mr. Parker: holy shit
Mr. Williams: HAHAHAHAHA
Mr. Kelly: Oh, Bruce! Anthropologie assistants are looking at me! I’m laughing so hard!
Corrections House, despite the prowess of its players, doesn’t sound too premeditated. Slap-dash would be harsh, though it’s accurate that Last City Zero doesn’t come together as a final product. Now, the perceived wall-sticking writing process could be wrong. Maybe this took years. Maybe Sanford Parker, who is experienced with these endeavors, went all Little Buddha across the sludgiverse. Maybe. But, it plays like a record that hasn’t had enough time to gestate. It’s a preemie. Its good features look acceptable, just small. You leave it and wonder if you should keep thinking about it. When you come back it might not be there at all.
The big problem is the distinctive voices of the group step on one another. So many shoes were smudged to bring you this record. Hmmm, perhaps a more apt analogy: Corrections House is unable to perform the weave because everyone wants the layup. To their credit, they’re all really good at getting swaggy buckets. Scott Kelly’s dustbowl guitar tone and gelatin silver vocals are more stirring than Ken Burns making cookies. Sanford Parker’s programmed percussion is bass-y and bludgeoning, his keyboards like a keynote address at a Coil convention, and his production stormcell-powerful. Mike IX Williams, fed words by the sure-to-be-a-pseudonym Seaward Fairbury, is his normal, feral self, launching jabs from outside your peripheral vision, ones that flash fireworks behind your eyes when they land. Finally, Bruce Lamont is given the direction “John Zorn” and provides textures like a Maaco paint gun. Everyone ends up being themselves. Which must feel awesome because they’re brilliant at being themselves.
They just can’t work together. All are fairly confident “team” needs to be spelled with the M-E. And, since they have a handle on what they can offer, no one reaches. Or, maybe they defer. Whatever the case, the success rate on their sonic experiments – legit industrial of the non-Germanic Blade variety and Bish Bosch as explained by an #OWS protestor are their two big touchstones – measures right around Jim Abbott’s career batting average. (Which, snark aside, is .095, because Jim Abbott is a heroic badass.) Flashes of greatness are buried by doughy flubs. The lyrical misses in particular are like Gil Scott Heron destroying The Last Poets with lemon-in-a-cut parody slams during a Friar’s Roast; except on Last City Zero, it’s, you know, serious. Going deeper than its ear-pleasing loudness, you can hear the offset gears. It just does not work. Not together.
If there’s an album you’ll only listen to once this year, it’ll be Corrections House‘s Last City Zero.
But then, it sounds like it was an absolute blast to be in the room. It’s winningly loose. It’s also a little infectious. You want to bestow super powers upon it. Play it enough and you just might. And, really, who are we to damn four humans for doing what they want to do? Right? The unfortunate answer is, probably, “ourselves.”
Then again, you don’t pay $10 to listen to your coworker’s weekend.