Fang In Rain
By Jose Fritz
It’s the worst feeling to hear a record, and to “get it” and then to lose it and to spend a week trying to find that lost grain of sand somewhere; in your coat, in your pants, in your bag, in your gut or your heart. But I spent a week that way. At the bottom, I was on the corner of 33rd street and seventh watching two under-dressed escorts enter the Hotel Pennsylvania, freezing their fake tits off. I had The Beat Strings on my cheap-ass RCA MP3 player and as suddenly as it had left, the feeling returned.
It was the gratuitousness of fake tits in the snow, of exposed thongs, pink wigs and mini skirts in the wet and driving wind. That was them somehow. The bands they worship were absurd manifestations of the rock ethos. They channel David Bowie and his preening, Robert Smith’s face paint, Ram Jam playing extended jammed out versions of “Black Betty” for no reason except they were too stoned to play anything else. Then there’s the Jeff Buckley thing.
Never has a band from Waterloo, Iowa sounded more like they were from Brooklyn. They are Hidebound in that Jeff Buckley tunefulness and blue collar glory. They riff, they maraud through songs of middle class angst and they holler and harmonize like the king.
The record is very well produced, not too slick but it courts danger combining such studio competence with such an homage to cock rock. Cock rock was, as the name suggests, equal parts rock and well… cock. It takes no great leap to notice the androgen of glam, Ziggy Stardust, Marc Bolan, Roxy Music, Slade etc. That whole bisexual alien motif went a little too far. So if spelunking the modern possibilities of glam one must take care, and not take stage wearing merkin silver shoulder pads, a codpiece or glitter face paint.
William Tompkins described it thusly in 1953:
“In the earliest stages of intoxication the will power is destroyed and inhibitions and restraints are released; the moral barricades are broken down and often debauchery and sexuality result. Where mental instability is inherent, the behavior is generally violent.”
That said, Buckley missed out by not getting down and dirty. The Beat Strings sing odes to house-breaking, rehab and ex-wives. This art is grittier, more like Canal Street than 42nd. The melodies seem familiar because they are hidebound in all things great.
In their lowest lows they sound like Radiohead or the Cure. “Lose a Disguise” sounds maybe too much like the Cure. When the banjo pops up mirroring the lead guitar melody on “In the Night” they sound like the Beat Strings. When the Hammond organ rolls out that cycling sustain; building tension under the choppy drum beat on “The Truth” and Adam Bolt sings “I’m leaving my guard up, I lead with my left”… that sounds like the Beat Strings.
In their best moments they sound only like The Beat Strings. And that’s what we’re all looking for in the wind, in the morning sun through the windshield. Sometimes they find that unique voice of self that is truly great. When you do it is your beating heart and the crashing sea in your ears.