Monday, August 1, 2011

Saccharine Trust-The Great One is Dead; Hazelwood Records, 2001

It's hard to believe that ten years have passed since this disc's release. It's also hard to believe that so little ink, physical or digital, has been spilled to assess its qualities. Of which there are tons.
To start with the obvious: there can be no Saccharine Trust without the dark insights of Jack Brewer's lyrics and their nervous, halting delivery. The Great One is Dead is filled to the brim with both. Brewer's writing often seems to focus on the pain of real world relationships, real world failings, and street level real world life in general. His lyrics have always been far from Utopian in scope. It is within their poetic treatment by Brewer that these stark realities are often given a kind of grace. Listen to Water on the Dance Floor or The Sadness of Apollo or Untitled no. 2 (I gave another dimension the slip) for prime examples of his lyrical prowess in these matters. Disaster Amnesiac has also often been enthralled by Brewer's lyrical pictures of urban California life. The way old fishermen are described in Birthing the Ancestors, and the ubiquitous liquor store of Neruda's Wave, and the tweaker friend of Reggie's Plateau-these, among even others, have often reminded me of similar scenes in my haunts within the Golden State. Praise must also be given to Brewer for his unique, expressive and highly personal vocal style. When you hear Jack Brewer, you know it's Jack Brewer. Score one for individuality in the face of boring (Industry) standards! On The Great One, Brewer uses varied mic and recording effects to alter the sound of his vocals to great effect, too.
Speaking of sound, one would be pressed to find as creative a guitar sound player as Jack's long-time cohort in Saccharine Trust, Joe Baiza.That is not to say that Baiza's technical prowess is lacking: it is not. Joe's guitar playing has been in continuous development for thirty-plus years now, as anyone who has followed Saccharine Trust and Universal Congress of can attest to. From the early, skewed Punk Rock chord sounds of early S.T. to his later Jazz-inflected capital L lead playing of both bands, Baiza has grown as a writer and player, all the while retaining the rawness and edge (hey, it's the Blues, once again!) so necessary for effective, impacting, physical oomph that makes for great Rock guitar. Joe adds many purely noise/sound effects to his more linear guitar parts on The Great One. These industrial (in the machine/scrap metal sense, not in the NIN/Skinny Puppy spooky dance sense), paired with his dexterous runs, lead and color the tunes. His guitar tone is fuzzy and echo-ey, adding to the raw, claustrophobic feel of the overall sound of the disc. Great, disturbing cover illustration from Joe, to boot.
In contrast the the firm pairing of Baiza/Brewer necessary for Saccharine Trust's existence as a band, the rhythm section of S.T. has often been in flux. For The Great One is Dead, the engine room is stoked by bassist Chris Stein and drummer Brian Christopherson. Stein's tight, funk-inflected fuzz bass often plays as much of a lead roll as Baiza's guitar. It's such a solid anchor, all across the record, too; but, the listener is very often lead through the tunes by way of his bass work as it bounces and blasts them by turns. Christopherson's drumming is sublime: a Jazz-schooled heaviness that never feels heavy handed or overly flashy, but always expressive and within a deep pocket. Imagine Max Roach deciding to play Rock, and you'd be close. Rock intensity without the stadium volume. A singular, outstanding drummer here! As a rhythmic pairing, the two are outstandingly tight and focused. Pretty clearly the best drummer/bassist tandem for Saccharine Trust, at least on record.
The sum of the aforementioned parts makes for a harrowing, heavy document. Given Saccharine Trust's history and physical location, it's no wonder. Here's a great, original band, made up of creative and original musicians, that has never really gotten its due. The fact that  they've managed to continue at all is a credit to their vision and tenacity.
Some levity is provided in the madcap closing tune, but for the most part, The Great One is Dead provides a darkened soundtrack to the heartbroken purgatory that lies outside the front doors of most, particularly in urban California. Its close-engineered sound only adds to those vibes. The recordings have a hovering, and to use the term again, claustrophobic feel.
Upon further reflection, ten years is probably about the right amount of time for a recording of this magnitude to settle. Hopefully more fans of Saccharine Trust will begin to weigh in with their impressions, and hopefully Saccharine Trust will lay some more of their weight on us.


Pig State Recon said...

This is indeed a great, great record, one that even Nels Cline (in an interview somewhere else on the web) recognises as top-of-its-class. Thanks for reminding me about it.

Mark Pino On Drums said...

Row-so great! I hadn't listened to it in some time, and came back via a music reorganization project at the apartment. Such a GREAT ONE!