At press time, the U.S. is on the brink of war, a situation that makes the St. Louis music scene seem, if not exactly irrelevant, relatively trivial, even in a column about St. Louis music. Booking agents and club owners have canceled a bunch of shows, and the big CMJ musical festival (which takes place every year this time in NYC) has been postponed until October. Big whoop: Music fans, like everyone else in the country, aren't in the mood for rocking. They're too busy staring at their TV screens, helpless and dumbfounded as the same gruesome footage endlessly cycles on the news: the smoking rubble of the Pentagon, the postapocalyptic remains of the World Trade Center, all those poor broken bodies buried beneath the dust and the twisted metal. Over and over again, the first jet neatly pierces the side of Tower 1, like a diver parting the surface of a lake, and combusts in a spectacular fireball. Then the second jet hits the second tower, and both structures crumple into ash.
Dubious honor it may be, but if ever the time was right for the Flying Luttenbachers, it's now. Brutal, ugly, terrifying scenes require an equally horrific soundtrack, and it's somehow fitting that the notorious squallmeisters are scheduled to appear on a bill with Brain Transplant and Dave Stone at the Way Out Club on Thursday, Sept. 20. For nearly 10 years, various incarnations of the Luttenbachers have mind-fucked audiences with a cathartic fusion of free jazz, industrial electronics, skronk-punk and death metal. On recent albums such as ... The Truth is a Fucking Lie and Trauma, the Luttenbachers unleash a relentless barrage of experimental noise and improvisational chaos, rendered almost beautiful in its ferocious abstraction. The current lineup features founding member/head provocateur Weasel Walter on drums, along with new recruits Jonathan Hischke and Alex Perkolup, who both play bass. In an interview last month with the Crouton label's online magazine (www.croutonmusic.com), Walter, who's performed with such avant-jazz bigwigs as Peter Brötzmann, describes his outfit as "warriors at the cusp of Armageddon." He's committed to touring as much as possible, spreading the gospel of rampant destruction to sensation-starved nihilists far and wide: "Apparently, the only way for us to win people over is to force this music down every last one of their fucking throats in person. We grow in power every day, and the depth of the music is expanding rapidly. The end is near, and the robot is emerging."
Another harbinger of end times, or just a minor miracle? Impossible to say, but the breathlessly awaited, interminably delayed Highway Matrons CD, Nothing Is Better, appeared on Radar Station's desk last week, accompanied by a note from singer/guitarist Mark Stephens printed in green-crayoned capital letters. (Warning: Just because we found the gesture charming this one time doesn't mean the rest of you should follow suit: Kindly consider our ancient, overworked eyeballs, if you please!) Sloppy, shambolic and occasionally brilliant, the CD veers from the hallucinatory grind of "Clint Eastwood" to the roughly tender "Little Baby Dreams," with slovenly excursions into raw blues and discombobulated honky-tonk. Recorded live at Undertow Studios two years ago, the sound is deliberately imperfect, ragged and right, torn and frayed -- in other words, it's the perfect context for drummer Fred Friction's scorched-larynx musings; Stephens' soulful, vulnerable croak (which sometimes recalls that of Paul Westerberg); and former bassist Hunter M. Brumfield's corrosive background bellow. With songs about girls with pit-bull breath, boys who are too drunk to fight, hearts full of pus, lost bicycles and misspelled tattoos, Nothing Is Better is a perfect approximation of the Highway Matrons aesthetic, in all its inebriated, wretched glory -- and, as such, it's a wonder that the blessed thing ever came out at all. The official release party (not to be confused with the official release party of several months ago, when disappointed fans received vouchers instead of actual CDs) takes place Saturday, Sept. 22, at the Way Out Club. Stiff Neck Roy and Carousel Cowboy round out the bill.
On Thursday, Sept. 27, at the recently reopened Cicero's, atmospheric Canadian psych-rockers Pope Factory headline an 18-and-up show, supported by local static kings Cloister, whose appealing guitar-and-electronics stylings earned them a Slammy nomination earlier this year. (No, they didn't win, but was it their fault they were pitted against the unbeatable Grandpa's Ghost?) On the heels of last year's catchy-but-cerebral, fuzz-blasted Recorduroy, Cloister is currently scoring the soundtrack to an independent film called A Gentle Reminder. Next fall, the band -- which comprises Mike Cook on drum machine, Moog and vocals; Dana Smith on guitar and vocals; and Garrett Fronabarger on guitar -- hopes to begin recording its next full-length CD, possibly at Radio Penny. The members of Cloister have also signed a contract with production company Bunim/Murray, permitting the use of their songs in episodes of The Real World and Lost in the USA next season. Bunim/Murray is under no obligation to foist Cloister on the greater public, of course, but, given that they can, here's hoping they will.