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Saturday, September 17, 2011

The Birthday Party, "Junkyard"

The Birthday Party
4AD (1982)

1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die

Typically, when an artist makes the jump from being in a group to doing their own thing, much of their identity has already been generated and it's easy to pick out just where they came from. Beyonce, Gwen Stefani, Rod Stewart; Some changed more than others when they went solo, but remnants of their previous acts (Destiny's Child, No Doubt and the Jeff Beck Group) are evident. This is not the case for Nick Cave and The Birthday Party.

Cave is a modern critical darling, similar to the Arcade Fire and Radiohead, in that nothing they do garners negative reviews. This is over-generalizing, but tends to be true. Cave deserves the credit; his songwriting and wide range of approaches to rock music has led to many a good album. As of late (the least ten years), his music (as Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds) has shown exceptional production effort as well (see "Abattoir Blues" among others). Cave's current attention to detail is a far cry from his original band, The Birthday Party. That is ultimately the point.

"Junkyard," the group's second album under the BP title, displays an avid disregard for production value, a trait now popularized as "lo-fi" by modern alternative acts. It's quite possible that the band was simply lazy, but it's established fact that Cave and his counterparts objected to fine tuning. Cave and guitarist Mick Harvey were involved in another group later during the '80s, Honeymoon in Red, and promptly requested that their names be removed from the project after they heard the enhanced and dubbed post-production version. In short, they liked things dirty.

And "Junkyard" is very dirty. Those used to Cave's work with the Bad Seeds will recognize his deep baritone, but may be surprised when he devolves into shrieks on tracks like "6" Gold Blade," a departure from his current subdued style. The guitars range from dirty blues riffs (think Aerosmith with much more feedback and distortion) on "The Dim Locator" to full out sludge on "Hamlet (Pow Pow Pow)." Percussion is at its best when it's simple and blunt, such as on "Big-Jesus-Trash-Can" or "Dead Joe."

Perhaps the most interesting switch from standard production is how big the room sounds. Producers tend to aim for a condensed sound for rock bands, giving the impression that the listener is in a small room with the band, witnessing a performance. "Junkyard" often sounds like it's taking place in an empty auditorium, with one guitarist standing 100 feet from the other guitarist, creating a sense of disconnect between the instruments. But again, it adds to the lo-fi effect that the band was going for.

Frankly, not many people are going to enjoy this album. The level of dissonance is at epic highs, and dirty recording tends to drive people away. If you are a fan of hardcore punk, sludge metal or heavy grunge, it's certainly worth a shot.
INTERESTING FACT: If you've ever seen an animation on the side of a car, or a car poster, or anything to do with a car, featuring a guy with huge eyeballs and his tongue flopping out the window of his speeding vehicle, odds are it's by Ed Roth, the same guy who drew the cover for this album. The character's name is in fact "Junk Yard Kid."

"Dead Joe"

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