Wednesday, July 11, 2007
Book of Knots - Traineater
I first heard about Book of Knots earlier this year, when Pitchfork announced that Tom Waits would be doing a guest spot on a forthcoming album called Traineater, an album devoted to the decline of the American Rust Belt. I got real excited. I read on, and discovered that a couple of the guys from Pere Ubu, I got real excited. Then I found out that Carla Bozulich, most recently responsible for last year's bone-chilling Evangelista LP would be on board, and I audibly said, "okay, people stop sneaking into my brain and stealing the list of all the people I want to get together on one album." Jon Langford and Mike Watt are on it too, but of all the albums released in the last five years, I can count the ones Jon Langford and/or Mike Watt haven't been on with the fingers on one hand.
What gets passed over a lot because the names aren't as high-profile, but is far more important, is the presence of members of Skeleton Key and Sleepytime Gorilla Museum. Tom Waits gets his moment to shine, of course, on "Pray." David Thomas' appearance on "Red Apple Boy" sounds exactly like classic Pere Ubu, and Carla Bozulich will never be anyone but the astounding Carla Bozulich. However, those styles all get rolled up and assimilated into a frighteningly dark, post-industrial cacophony that overshadows all of the individual contributions. Skeleton Key comes clanging through with the junkyard percussion: they're talking about American industrial decline, and there's plenty on this album to bring to mind images of rusted through, decaying, arcane, and barely functioning machinery. If you can imagine what would happen if Terry Gilliam designed machines to make music, they could easily be on this album. Furthermore, when I picked this up for the first time, I was not expecting the skull-crushing blasts of METAL guitars. They're not everywhere, but as I said, these are the guys from Sleepytime Gorilla Museum: they're not always playing at full-throttle (in fact, they can tread as light as anyone else out there) but they've always got a layer of menace in there to keep you off-balance and uncomfortable, and then they come tearing in like a rabid grizzly bear whenever your guard is down.
This is not an album just to get because Tom Waits is on it. If you're just expecting something sort of like Mule Variations, you're going to be disappointed and probably a little bit scared. This is a musical world akin to something from the movie Brazil (without the whimsy), or the final scenes of Touch of Evil: giant decrepit machinery coming to life to terrorize you before it gives out and is forgotten entirely.