The Red Krayola With Art & Language - "Fairest Of All" (Sighs Trapped By Liars)
Sighs Trapped By Liars pulls together fondly remembered, nearly forgotten, and somewhat neglected elements of the Red Krayola’s history to yield a record that is rewarding and aggravating in equal measures. I doubt that Mayo Thompson – the band’s sole consistent member over 40-plus years – would have it any other way; despite an ample and enduring capacity to make smart, engaging rock and roll, he’s historically been more inclined to test rock’s weight-bearing limits. Between 1973 and 1983 he made three records with the conceptual art collective Art & Language. Kangaroo? remains one of the Krayola’s most enduring and satisfying, Corrected Slogans is definitely one of their most trying, and Black Snakes is as squiggly as its name.
Sighs is their first collaboration since then, and it’s as slippery, intriguing, and irritating as its predecessors. People who fondly remember the Krayola’s mid-’90s dalliance with the Chicago music scene will be pleasantly surprised to see that the hard-to-spot Jim O’Rourke is back in the fold playing acoustic guitar, synth bass and harmonica alongside his old comrade John McEntire and former Chicago Underground bassist Noel Kupersmith. If you’ve smarted at the scarcity of the California-based live version of the Krayola on record, you’ll be pleased to know that singers Elisa Randazzo and Sandy Yang are not only present, but account for all the lead vocals. Fortunately guitarist (and Californian) Tom Watson is still on board – his licks, hot or subdued, generate most of the record’s musical interest.
One wishes that Watson, or anyone else for that matter, had taken a stronger hand on the sonic end of things. While it never strays into the patience-testing waters of Blues, Hollers and Hellos, the pop hooks that sweeten the Krayola’s last couple releases are also in short supply on Sighs. Too often the music sort of drifts along, sometimes pleasantly dreamy and tripped out, other times simply a functional backdrop to a whole lot of words. Words about mirrors, words about morals, words about art, words about discredited methods of social analysis, words juxtaposing elimination and creation or elimination and death – there’s plenty of piss and shit on this record. And if you crack open the CD’s booklet, there are even more words commenting upon the somewhat listlessly sung words. Yang and Randazzo’s pipes are fine by indie-rock standards, more certain of pitch than a lot of other people who have sung with the Red Krayola over the years. But Thompson neglected to give them strong enough melodies to get all the words across; several songs read better than they sound.
Even so, there’s no one else straddling the lines between text and sound, high art and low language, and cerebral and physical action quite like the Red Krayola. Only the Mekons are in the same league, and they can be kind of trying, too. So, for that, I say God bless ‘em, but be prepared to put in a bit of work if you decide to put this record on.
By Bill Meyer
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