From the Basement: Rex
From The Basement #17
It was 1995 and I was in Baltimore with a girl that I thought I loved more than anything in the world. We went to this little club to see a band that I knew was amazing, but mostly I went to be with her. The band was the Laughing Hyenas, who I had just seen with Rodan and they were too cool for words. This time, though, the opening band was another beast entirely.
Rex blew my 24 year old mind by bringing out a cello and really playing with the loud-soft dynamics of music. They played one of my all-time favorite shows and, subsequently, became my favorite band for a good long time. I got their demo and listened to it constantly and slowly began to forget about them, until I found this release out of the blue in a used record store, when I was shopping with an old band-mate. I snapped up the record and played it for him in the car, pointing out every single thing about this band I wanted to emulate. Which was difficult because he was nowhere near as good a drummer as Douglas Scharin and I wasn't worthy of even touching Curtis Harvey's guitar strap, let alone play his incredibly diverse and heavily ethnically influenced guitar lines.
Rex was a birthplace of a veritable Who's Who of indie rock music, sharing that honor with Rodan and Red Red Meat. From the ashes of Rex came Him, June of 44 (with the kids from Rodan), Orso, a spectacular single release from Loftus (with the Red Red Meat boys) and Pullman. That doesn't even begin to cover the ridiculous amount of drum work that Douglas Scharin has done on so many records over the years. Quarterstick Records, Southern Records and Perishable Records owe an un-payable debt to these musicians and their years of artistry.
But I have strayed from the record in question.
"C", with its simple name, has a rather simple flow weaving through it. It starts the day, appropriately enough with "Morning", a seven minute ascent to the clouds. It is perfect way to begin an album that never dips out of the heavens, even when it is drenched in saddening nostalgia or bristling distortion. "Morning" lopes along at an even, but rhythmic pace, until the three and a half minute mark when it swells and explodes with distorted harmonies and fiery strings. Then as quickly as it starts, it is gone back down, only to rise again in all its glory. Man, this is such a good song that it is hard to carry on to the rest of the album.
I mean, you look at albums by June of 44 or Slint or Godspeed you! Black Emperor (wherever the fucking ! is supposed to go) and you see their crescendos accentuate a long series of repetitions. Perhaps they come from a different school, but the Rex songs really work these explosions into the already complex folk songwriting found on this album and the next "3". It is one thing to experience these rises and falls in a predominantly instrumental piece, which is exciting enough, but when you add the emotion and soul of the human voice and a slightly more traditional (GOD-FORBID) song structure, it hits you that much harder because it is so rarely accomplished today or ever.
Even the fifth song, the instrumental "Audrey La'Mort" flows with such incredible alacrity (check that SAT word out). The guest bassist Bundy K. Brown (of Tortoise and Directions in Music fame) allows Phil Spirito (currently in the Binto family band ORSO) to really work a nasty little distorted guitar line into an otherwise beautiful acoustic piece. Serving as a halfway point for the record, this song and the next "Jubin" really showcase the skillful playing of one Mr. Phil Spirito… go check out the two ORSO albums and you will be pleasantly rewarded with his many skills.
But the title track bring this album back into a purely group effort. This track rules this album and makes me forget almost everything about what has come before and even after. With its violin and cello choruses and refrains of "Are we expiring?", this song is the darkest on the record but still manages to generate a real sense of hope just from its floating string parts, lovingly created by the concert bassist Michael Billingsley. This song could stand toe to toe with anything that Mogwai or Godspeed puts out now and totally whoop their cold, inhuman asses in the process. This down-home feel really translates well into these post-rock jams and the string parts on these records really paved the way for other concert orchestra style bands.
The rest of the album flows along pretty much the same, until you get to the closer, "Farther Along". From the liner notes, you may notice that Momma Harvey sings the number and you will definitely see that music runs in the family when this gentle but sadly nostalgic song comes up. It always reminds me of the closer to Red Red Meat's Bunny Gets Paid, with its sad rendition of "There is Always Tomorrow". Rising out of the distortion-rich finish of "New Dirge", this little folk number finishes the record with a mother and son duet that really makes you want to call your matriarch and hug her through the phone line…
You must excuse me… I have a phone call to make.
- Grant Capes | 2004-01-15
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