12.18.02 - 7:09 p.m.
TAUT LOUD AGGROCK (aggressive, not agricultural)
Reviewer: A--- P--
The problem with death metal is the vocals. No matter how intricate and compelling the music, if you layer an irritating growly nitwit on top of it the resulting din is intolerable. At first I felt this way about Jesus Lizard. The guitar, bass and drum work of this now defunct quartet brought together jazz-like precision and understated menace to form a potent sonic assault. However, you can't listen to them without having to endure David Yow's maniac vocals, which almost always sound as though he's drunk, high and hearing-damaged. He's not as headache-inducing as, say, the lead singer for Napalm Death, but his screams and shrieks are unlikely to win a place in charm school anytime soon.
Nevertheless, although Yow's singing is an acquired taste, his crazy vocals are actually a necessary counterpoint to the buzzing riffs and clamoring backing of Denison/Sims/McNeilly. Aphex Twin's songs often have a beautiful melody but also a screechy nails-on-blackboard sound, and Jesus Lizard are similar. You just have to accept the contrast. The same theory applies (theoretically) to that mole on Cindy Crawford's face.
(fig a: the "Jesus Lizard" of modeling.)
"Bang" is a compilation of odds and ends from Jesus Lizard's stint at Touch n' Go. It has some live numbers, some b-sides and some classic singles-- a good introduction to their work. I disagree with the reviewer who said the live tracks suck due to the absence of Steve Albini. It's true that they don't have the same polished sheen as the studio tracks, but they're certainly listenable. Hearing the live bits now, you can sense what a force Jesus Lizard were in concert. The one time I saw them, I thought Yow was going to explode. You don't see that much genuine lunacy onstage these days, which is a shame, because shows are always more exciting when there's a chance, however slight, that the lead singer might kill you.
What other bands today are mining Jesus Lizard's groove? Theirs was an urgent, off-kilter, aggressive rock that dispensed with frat-boy booziness (Limp Bizkit et al) in favor of a genuinely unsettling sonic and lyrical attack. The sharp riffs and paranoid psychotic lyrics of songs like "Monkey Trick" and "Fly on the Wall" induce skin crawling even as you rock out. While that might sound unpleasant, it must be remembered that art doesn't have to soothe. Jesus Lizard vexed.
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