The sonic spectrum 

Digital bleeps, lyrical beauty and Retardo lunacy

Richard Devine, Lipswitch
Pro-electronic music fans say artists like Richard Devine are the future. Their opponents say “like hell!” The pros say that artists like Richard Devine are the new maestros, masterminds of machine music, architects of danceably dehumanized digital landscapes. The antis say, “gimme a break, we used to drop beats that were way doper than this crap by randomly pressing the yellow buttons and barking-dog samples on our old Casio keyboards.”

The pros think the antis aren’t sophisticated enough to get it. The antis think the pros are suckers and damn fools for buying into the whole “electronic music is the future” lie and tithing a third of their income for expensive imports of jaded British art school students cutting and pasting different combinations of bonks and blats using My First Sequencer™ for Windows XP. The pros whisper conspiratorially that drugs may or may not have something to do with it. The antis snort at this confession before remembering that they have their preferred drug recordings, too.

The pros implicitly claim that the outlay of cash required for the equipment needed to produce and reproduce these sounds somehow justifies the music itself. The antis say “Gimme a cheap guitar and I can take it anywhere and always find someone who’s going to want to hear ‘Stairway to Heaven.’’’ The pros claim the possibilities of digital are endless. The antis say “OK, then, let’s hear something that doesn’t sound like an infinite number of monkeys poking away at an infinite number of samplers and signal processors and inexplicably coming up with the same shitty thing over and over.”

The pros hear layers of sound and, ahem, “rich sonic timbre environments.” The antis hear more quasi-snare-drum pshhts here and fewer cheesy keyboard sounds there, so effin’ what? The pros imagine their favorite electronic recordings to be the soundtrack to a bleak future of battling giant robots and cowering humanity. The antis cower at the very idea of a future populated cheek by jowl with a bunch of pasty-faced sissies in black windbreakers and shudder at the thought that one day they just might find themselves longing to hear another wet-cardboard cover of “Mustang Sally.”

The pros hear industrial beats and jarring samples. The antis hear fart noises and squeaky balloon sounds. The pros swathe themselves in these synthetic raiments of silver and gold. The antis howl that the emperor has no clothes, and why the hell can’t anybody see it?

(Richard Devine performs this Friday at the Green Room and Red Light Bar. See Calendar for details.)

—Andy Smetanka

Cabin, Self-titled

Cabin’s self-titled album is an inflective look at the nature of struggle, presented in a lyrical vernacular and sonic landscape that is unmistakably Montana. The sound is both individual and refreshingly mature, drawing on a wide variety of influences, most obviously bluegrass and alternative rock. Lead singer Corey Smith’s voice is robust and versatile, evoking James Taylor, Eddie Vedder, Tracy Chapman, Michael Stipe and Brad Robberts.

Smith’s lyrics could stand on their own on the merits of their exceptional poetry and depth. Replete with metaphors and deliberate ambiguities, the songs nonetheless succeed in conveying imagery we can all relate to. “The Continuance of Pike,” a thoughtful ballad, tells of a girl “whose eyes are filled with a house on the hill that she can defend,” ruminates about “what to say when you’re taking it slow,” and expresses a deep longing to “see [her] again.” It is at once about unrequited love, love as conquest or competition, and missing someone.

“Staying in Common,” a serpentine two-step, urges you to bid farewell to “fellows who have been acquainted well enough with circumstances hard to understand,” and to “recognize the only thing you need.” An assertion that daily worries are more manageable when you have a friend, and an anthem about self-empowerment, the song is as complex as the problems it describes. Which reminds me: The music that frames Cabin’s lyrics always (sometimes uncannily) reflects their mood. “May I Encourage You” is an optimistic take on a strained relationship. Appropriately, the music is upbeat but reticent, its harmonies neutral but agreeable. Overall, the musicians on this recording give a strong collective performance, and special recognition should be extended to cellist/mandolinist Ryan Lo, whose subtle contributions are the secret ingredient.

—Nathaniel Smith

Retardo Montalban, It’s Not Retarded...It’s RETARDO!

One of the funniest things about Jake Morton, a.k.a. Retardo Montalban is that the guy is never half excited about anything. You or I might say, “Yeah, a sandwich. Those are pretty good.” But with Jake it’s like “OHMYGODTHATWASTHEBESTSANDWICHIEVERATEINMYLIFE!” And he’s like that all the time!

It’s Not Retarded is TOTALLY retarded, TOTALLY Retardo, and DEFINITELY not for the timid. It’s not a CD, it’s a 15-song toxic spill of scuzzball rock (“Piney Fresh,” “From Sprout to Goat: The Life of a Breast”), ass-pocket-of-Lysol blues (“Blind Willie McDonkeydick,” “Drinkin While Drunk”) and crank-yanking bargain-basement toasts (“Hey, Little Timmy, Look Behind That Tree, I Think It’s a Leprechaun”). And I don’t even know where to begin telling you about a song called “Panties in My Mouth.” Scrounge for loose change under your sofa cushions and buy this gibbering lunatic crap immediately!

—Andy Smetanka

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