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Chain & The Gang - In Cool Blood

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Artist: Chain & The Gang

Album: In Cool Blood

Label: K

Review date: Jun. 25, 2012

It seems appropriate that Ian Svenonius seems to have found a home on buddy Calvin Johnson’s K Records. Few figures in their peer group have remained as steadfast in their devotion to their original vision and ideals as these two. By staying small, they’ve granted themselves the luxury (and indulgence) of never having to answer to anyone. This ideology has lent itself to a lot of interesting and worthwhile music, but one of the potential long-term risks of making music with only an imagined audience of yourself is losing perspective. Another is getting lazy.

While none of Svenonius’s work would generally be interpreted as "polished," In Cool Blood sounds like it was written and recorded in the same 24-hour studio session, and maybe criticizing it as "tossed-off" for that reason is missing the point. Clearly this is part of the vision behind Chain & The Gang: re-engaging with the immediate, barebones spirit of rock ‘n’ roll, while critiquing the whole notion of it. This peculiar duality has long been at the heart of Svenonius’s oppositional method of engaging with the world. Anyone who’s read his essays, or caught an episode of his Soft Focus interview show will have at some point felt themselves squirm a little, wondering how far he will take an absurd conceit in the interest of awkwardness and provocation. As self-serious and intellectual as his socio-political views can appear, it’s hard to know how serious, if at all, to take them. There’s a thick patina of sarcasm implicit in everything he does that seems to create an infinite loop of uncertainty, feeding-back on itself and disarming attempted attack. One can never be sure to what extent he’s laughing with you or at you.

I realize I’ve spent next to no time talking about the album at hand thus far. That’s because there isn’t a lot to talk about. Svenonius is deep into his own thing at this point. I like that thing a lot, but it’s almost impossible to imagine this being a jumping-on point for anyone not already deeply invested in the history. In Cool Blood is full of reminders of why Svenonius matters: he’s just as sharp with his off-the-cuff lyrics as ever. "I’m Not Interested In (Being Interested In)" is a classic lampooning of narcissism, imploring the world to "make a movie about me / now that’s something that I would actually see!" while "Certain Kinds of Trash" takes Svenonius’s time-honored tradition of laundry-list as lyricism to new, ridiculous levels. Elsewhere, he answers the eternal question "Where Does All The Time Go?" It got locked up — but he can get some for you, god bless him, if you really want it back.

Musically and beyond, Chain & The Gang is starting to remind me of King Kong — not a comparison most bands aspire to. The shamefulness of King Kong’s ongoing neglect is an argument for another day, but like KK main man Ethan Buckler, Svenonius got his start in one of the seminal U.S. indie-punk bands of the late-’80’s, and has pursued his own unique, often inscrutable vision since, without looking back. In Cool Blood may not be absolutely essential, but it doesn’t need to be. Svenonius secured his place in rock ‘n’ roll history years ago; now he’s got to hang around to keep a fire-poker in the face of all the unrepentant flaccidity and outright falseness occurring everywhere all the time. And maybe throw another log on the fire while he’s at it.

By Jon Treneff

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