Review Summary: Do not bring your evil into my swamp.PART I
A hypothetical dialogue between the SwampThing and the reviewer ffs; an exercise in musical and discursive counterpoint.
What is it that really makes an album a “classic”?
The Swamp Thing:
It’s not what you think it is.
What pushes music over the boundary from being just an enjoyable listening experience to something deeper and far more meaningful?
The Swamp Thing:
This is certain to be a profound and probing insight. By all means, enlighten me with your tedious banalysis.
Call it a ridiculous cliché if you want, but for me an album has to really…transcend music to become one of my true favourites.
The Swamp Thing:
That’s a ridiculous cliché.
[…Some nonsensical prattle about the bands Converge and Palehorse…] But all of this irrelevant nonsense aside, the thing which I’m sure you’re really interested in if you’ve read this far is: what about this album?
The Swamp Thing:
I am a plant.
The Swamp Thing outlines the socio-historical derivation of the emo/screamo genre in general and the album
City of Caterpillar in particular, starting from the beginning of recorded history.
Now this is an old story, and most probably you’ve all heard it by now. But it bears repeating. So if there still be those among you with ears enough to listen, with wits enough to think…hark, because I’m going to break this shi
t down for you:
1. In the beginning there was Society – or rather a number of individual barbaric societies. But societies nonetheless. After the rise of agriculture and domestication there came permanent settlements and the establishment of institutionalized government and religion. Rudimentary superstitions and crude animistic beliefs were elaborated and codified into religious dogma, and general maxims of behavior were written into law. Setting aside, for a moment, folk traditions of music and craftsmanship, it can be seen that Music (along with the rest of Art) was most closely tied to religious ritual at this point.
2. With the further development of society and the progressive secularization of state authority, the musical vocation became increasingly professionalized, drifting away from its subservient role within the Church. Musicians instead sought patronage from the landed aristocracy, writing frivolous little melodies to satisfy the vanity of the nobles.
3. But soon the temporal sovereignty of the Church was ended forever, the Royal Family was beheaded, and blood privileges were rendered anachronistic by the great French Revolution. With the glorious triumph of capitalism through primitive accumulation in the eighteenth century and the greater articulation of the division of labor, music began more than ever to exist for itself. This gave birth to the dictum of art pour l’art
, and along with it an autonomous music. But in reality, of course, music more or less followed the fickle tastes of the grande bourgeoisie
, slipping into dandyism and eclecticism toward the end of the nineteenth century.
4. Following the invention of the first devices for musical recording, which made possible the technical reproduction and serialization of sound, the music industry first came into being, along with the rest of the culture industry. While this put a new premium on perceived “originality” and individualism in musical creativity, in truth this represented only a further vulgarization of the art. Once meant for kings and high priests, music was now intended to merely satisfy the fancies of the lowest commoner, the swinish masses
Anyway, many decades passed and a lot of shi
t happened. Jazz, blues, rock and roll, the folk revival, and psychedelic music – yeah, yeah, yeah. And then there came punk.
Punk rock tapped into the anger and discontent of a generation of British society that was fed up with the hippie message of peace and free love. It instead channeled its nihilistic fury against the boredom, disillusionment, and hypocrisies of the newly-dawning age of neoliberalism, railing against any and every traditional authority that stood in its path. But something was lost amidst this generalized annihilative rage: the personal feelings of heartbreak and loss, the tragic and lyrical dimension of music. These were looked upon by the punk movement with scorn and disgust. Such feelings were just cheap sentimentalism, romantic drivel…emotions that should have by now been drowned in the snot, spit, and liquid apathy of the punk Weltanschauung
For those who still clung to these emotions, who had despite themselves absorbed the influence of punk rock, a new genre was born: emo (which was destined to go through its own series of mutations and transformations). This combined the rawness, incompetence, and heroic amateurism of punk rock with the personal oblivion of death, betrayal, and unrequited love. The sneering growl of punk rock vocals gradually gave way to hysterical shrieks, and the oversimplified three-powerchord patterns were replaced by calculated cacophony and more sophisticated harmonic dissonance. The aggressively brusque straightforwardness of punk lyrics, their studied stupidity, was exchanged for a more precious vocabulary and elaborate attempts at lyrical symbolism. All of a sudden emo began to wax poetic, trying to give itself the illusion of depth. The cracking voice that pierced through the fuzz of the guitars and bad production was seen as a testament to its authenticity, an expression of the genuine pathos that must underlie all of this chaos and ugliness. Predictably, such techniques were swiftly glamorized and soon became standard within the genre.
One of the bands that was pivotal for the establishment of the screamo sound was City of Caterpillar, best known for their self-titled 2002 album, after which they would soon split up. Needless to say, the early breakup of the band gave the group an air of tragedy – the feeling of unrealized possibilities – and this played no small part in enhancing their image in the collective memory of their fans. The next section will attempt to diagnose the underlying pathology of this group with reference to the album under review.
The Swamp Thing attempts to diagnose the psychopathology of City of Caterpillar through an excursus on
For all of its supposed pathos
, City of Caterpillar
, even pathological
. In fact, were it not for the incessant praise that’s repeatedly been lavished upon it, City of Caterpillar’s self-titled release would be unworthy of serious critical reflection. To even write a review for it, as if it deserved any consideration at all, would be to give it too much credit. But nevertheless, though in so doing I will have accorded the album a dignity unbefitting of its gracelessness, a few points must be addressed in order to set the record straight.
“A Heartfelt Reaction to Dissatisfaction” stems from a wounded narcissism, nothing more. But the pleasure principle has in this case already been far removed from its libidinal origin: erotic desire has been sublimated and transposed into emotional desire. As the song’s lyrics clearly indicate, the failure of another to satisfy the singer’s emotional needs and expectations leads to frustration. This is later replaced by feelings of jealousy tinged with bitterness: the question “How’s it feel to have such fools attracted to you?” is not meant to be answered. The emotionality of this whole scenario is overwrought, however, as these matters tend to be. Things would have been far simpler, and frankly more honest, if the frustrated desire actually were
erotic. At least the Rolling Stones’ “I Can’t Get No Satisfaction” was about sex.
The band’s neurosis continues through “And You’re Wondering How a Top Floor Could Replace Heaven,” but from the opposite direction. This time it’s an externalization and petty exaggeration of the death drive, directed at anything and everything that crosses the singer’s path:
Waving your goodbyes with your plastic hands and century-old arctic kisses. And not a finger lifts till it all turns to shit and you all act like you’re impressed.
The caustic tone adopted in these lyrics is contrived and ridiculous, a faint shadow of the genuine acerbity that belonged to greater men like H.L. Mencken, in his famous writings on farmers. Of course, the faux thanatotic vitriol that City of Caterpillar bandies about in this song can be traced to another, more perverse, unconscious motive. Death, as clinical psychologists have known for ages, is the world’s greatest aphrodisiac. The erotic impulse that City of Caterpillar had effectively excised from itself (in a grandiose act of self-castration), is now resurrected in the form of simulated Death. The band, otherwise sexless and freakish, at this point regresses to the primitive self-satisfaction of an infantile erection, the cosmic hard-on of the newborn.
But it’s not the real deal; this Death was a farce. The final blow is never delivered. Death has instead performed a striptease and then has let the album suddenly end, leaving the listener with aural blue-balls. It’s a long buildup, with overdramatic gestures at those classic post-rock swells towards climax thrown in along the way, but this one never reaches orgasm. It’s almost like fu
cking a really ugly chick because she’s supposed to be more exciting and extreme, but halfway through you realize the whole thing is too disgusting, you go limp, and in the end you can’t even bring yourself to finish it.
So let there be no further confusion over this matter: City of Caterpillar
is a pathetic excuse of an album. The fact that a number of listeners have become convinced that its songs convey torment and anguish of the sincerest variety is an insult to human intelligence – a scandal to Reason, lunatical topsyturvydom. We do indeed live in dark times, where that which is bad is called good and people read Adam Downer’s reviews without laughing at them. The sky is falling in. The stars, the stars.
Answers to some outstanding questions
And You’re Wondering How a Top Floor Could Replace Heaven[?]
Such an insipid thought has never crossed the mind of anyone, for it has long since been known that the land of milk and honey resides none other than in my stinking bog.
When Was the Last Time We Painted Over the Blood on the Walls?
You’re not clever.
The Swamp Thing calculates the album rating for City of Caterpillar’s self-titled album.
(u1 = (1+ ia) uxx + (1+ ic)u - (1+ id)|u|2u) × 0 [= the absolute musical value of emo/screamo music, or nil] + 1 [modifying for Sputnik’s 1-5 rating system] = 1