Black Cat Music: Hands in the Estuary, Torso in the Lake

Black Cat Music
Hands in the Estuary, Torso in the Lake

Some interesting things about Black Cat Music:

1. They hate being compared to the Murder City Devils, and have considered making a section of their website for lazy reviewers, providing them with this oft-expressed comparison in a prepackaged format. I have never heard the Murder City Devils, so I guess they can breathe easy on that one. I do think they sound like a number of other bands, but I don’t know if that makes me any less lazy than the average reviewer.

2. The engineer for this most recent album (their Lookout! debut, though they’ve recorded two others) is Davy Vain, whose band Vain toured with Skid Row in the early Nineties. Isn’t that cool? I totally love the thought that all those guys who once used to front bands named after themselves and wear really tight pants and stuff are now producing relatively obscure indie recordings. I mean it’s so subversive and creepy: what if there are subliminal messages from Kip Winger on the Preston School of Industry album? Like weird manifestos calling for mousse’s restoration to its former glory in the pantheon of hair care products? Where else have these men infiltrated, and how much influence have they gained over the minds of our youth? But enough of this talk, I’m feeling like a slice of cherry pie . . . .

3. The title of this album, or at least the part of it that refers to torsos in the lake, comes from the fact that the cops really were finding human torsos in San Francisco’s Lake Merritt. At least according to the singer, Brady. He claims in a local interview that some torsos were found with lots of cash stuffed into their pockets, to show that the person was murdered not for money, but for reasons like honor or disrespect. This is also very creepy and cool. I often wish that our society still included stringent honor codes, and that we got to fight duels and stuff. Very straightforward. I also think that BCM’s aesthetic includes some of this formality or posturing-I mean in the best sense, like Iggy Pop style posturing.

But enough of this listmaking. On to the heart of the matter! Hands in the Estuary, Torso in the Lake is a rather competent medley of gothic blues and punk rock sensibility. Though Brady disavows the mysterious Murder City Devils, he will admit to a fondness for Social Distortion. This influence is evident more in the guitar and rhythm section than in the vocals, but it is more than evident on songs like “It’s the Same Cold Rain That Falls on You and Me and Everyone”, with its chunk-a-chunk, sardonic chorus. When I say ‘punk rock sensibility’, then, I mean it in that loose way, the way that people used to say Jane’s Addiction came out of punk, or that Nick Cave was sorta punk. That same feeling is part of the posturing effect, too: Brady does not sound particularly like Nick Cave (though he wails and moans a bit), and even less like Perry Ferrell, but his grandiose persona evokes both of them. The vocal style is quite reminiscent of The Cure, without that whininess — this is very much music about proclaiming oneself, even when proclaiming sad-sack things like “I’ll never wait for anyone AGAIN”!

The bass, ably handled by Omar Perez, is quite Cure-ish at times also. Indeed, the whole instrumentation is very much a mid-to-late Eighties post new wave operation; although, at times the guitar takes on a bluesy tremor, and then it’s hard to pin down. I think that this undefinability is probably BCM’s trump card: though they sound like a lot of things, they never sound like one thing all the time. The Jane’s Addiction comparison (another of Brady’s admitted influences) is especially evident on “Williamsburg Bridge Song”, with its fall away vocals and epic distance; on the other hand, no one remotely resembling Dave Navarro ever tears into a wailing guitar solo and none of the other songs on the album particularly remind me of Jane’s Addiction. I was actually most consistently reminded of J. Mascis and Dinosaur’s first album; not just the vocals, which are tres-J, but also in the nimble bass (that’s why I say the first album-sorry, but I still think Barlow’s bass is the best thing about that sorry outfit) and quicksilver drums. Incidentally, heavy drums could easily of ruined this album, and I think Travis Dutton should bbe particularly commended for keeping it from being some kind of gothic free love freakout.

Every once in a while I’d hear a chord change or something that would sort of remind me of those decadent days of hair metal-the salad days, I like to say. Oh Davy, what horrifying urges have you planted in my subconscious via these erstwhile Bay City lake drudgeries?