DUENDE! with David J — Oracle of the Horizontal
Glass Modern Records
So David J was in town. Turns out the legendary bassist for Bauhaus, and later Love & Rockets, has a thing for Theater Bizarre and was in Detroit working with the Orchestra on a project. Jeff Howitt of local prog/psych/garage rock ‘n’ roll band DUENDE! got wind of Mr. J’s presence and relayed a message inviting him to sit in with the band on a cover of a Love & Rockets song. David J did in fact show up to the DUENDE! gig at Kelly’s in Hamtramck. He reportedly blistered the chorus of “No New Tale to Tell,” and the rest was the future.
One year after the Kelly’s show, David turned up at The Tempermill in Ferndale. Jeff and the band were mixing the dirge-rock freakout “In the Shadow of 45” featuring Jeff’s vocals. David added some flavorful harmonica wail to this grinder, but from that point Jeff ceded the microphone to the legend. And the rest is this recording.
Completed in about a week’s time, the six-track Oracle of the Horizontal features David J as the spirit guide of the DUENDE! sonic sojourn, leading us through a world of sleaze, wonder and swamp gas. On the opening track, “Get Out of My Dreams,” it’s easy to focus on David’s eerie spoken-word musings on a somnambulant realm, but crank this tune and get lost in the elaborate soundscapes of guitarist Joel McCune and bassist Scott Sanford, anchored by drummer Laura Willem. The swirling sound squalls and gnarled trails creep in and out of subconsciousness as the mad man intones his visions.
“Motor City Squeeze” steals the keys and yanks the car in a completely different direction. David J clearly fell in lust in our fair city, so they put together a full-throttle grunge-inspired feature track to commemorate it. David drags his squeeze from strip clubs to dive bars to Motown’s Studio A (and of course takes time out for a coney jam). This propulsive, muscular track features David J on bass and will gear-grind you on a tour of his Detroit. Check out the charmingly manic video for “Squeeze:”
The aforementioned “In the Shadow of 45” is a highlight for me. This is the only track that features Jeff on vocals and it’s a much more organic sound. His resonant baritone blends effortlessly amongst the distorted, often unhinged timbres of the band. It’s almost like they’ve been refining this sound for over 10 years (which they have). Still trying to figure out if the lyrics refer to our 45th president…
“Queen Moon and the Brazen Bull” is my favorite of the tracks that feature David J on vocals. The man also brings his signature rolling-boil bass, and together with Laura, this rhythm section rumbles and chugs like a steam engine. Moments in which the tune threatens to wander off into poetry-slam territory, Joel McCune’s guitar reliably steers the band back together for the chorus. “Alice Through the Windscreen” reminds me of chilled-out early Bowie, or a Leonard Cohen daydream. It even has a fancy trumpet fanfare. While a delightful tea-time reverie, a bit of the old David J bass might have been a nice enhancement.
“Oracle” represents the apex of this collaboration. It’s an epic expressionist recitation. The warbling woodwinds evoke “Tomorrow Never Knows” wheezy tape squeals, or Andy McKay’s work with Roxy Music. The guitar melody eases out of tune occasionally to create beguiling atonal dissonance. Laura switches to a swing feel later in the tune which heightens the intrigue. As the gulls cry in the mist, David J remains our medium, bringing messages and guiding us along intercortextual paths. “One more grave is yet another womb” is a lyric that begs contemplation.
This is a really cool recording produced by David J and engineered by Tony Hamera. It’s a remarkable accomplishment, especially given the time they had to work. The CD version retains a rich sophistication, despite occasionally feeling a bit compressed. It has plenty of snarl in the right places and rocks hard enough. There’s a nice chimey top end throughout, and the tunes that feature bass guitar have particularly lush low frequencies. They could have dialed back the reverb, which might have allowed David’s vocalizing to sit more comfortably in the mixes. His voice has acquired some appealing weather, and I want to hear it meld into DUENDE!’s maelstrom.
A cartoon car once said, “You never feel more alive than when you’re almost dead.” This recording is most thrilling when it explores the sonic and poetic possibilities beyond the quick, on the edge of necromancy. I hope we get a chance to hear more. The rest is up to them.