Jesus Lizard

(Copyright © 1999-2020 Piero Scaruffi | Terms of use )
Pure, 7/10 (EP)
Head, 7.5/10
Goat, 8/10
Liar, 7.5/10
Lash, 7/10 (EP)
Down, 7/10
Shot, 6/10
Blue, 6/10
David Yow: Tonight You Look Like A Spider (2013), 6/10

Chicago's noise-rock was heavily influenced by the subculture of hardcore, and by Big Black's apocalyptic noise. Jesus Lizard summarized the style better than anyone else. The historical line-up of Scratch Acid's vocalist David Yow, Scratch Acid's bassist David Sims, Phantom 309's drummer Mac McNeilly, and guitarist Duane Denison, was the vanguarde of a new kind of hardcore punk-rock that had absorbed funk, noise and industrial music. The EP Pure (1989) and the full-length Head (1990) were dramas of of macabre hyper-realism, immersed into urban neurosis as viewed from Yow's sick mind. Goat (1991), their most accomplished work, found a magical balance between Yow's psychotic mumbling and screaming (and perverted visions), Denison's elegant vocabulary of grinding, scathing, sobbing, lashing sounds, and a repertory of ever-mutating epileptic rhythms. The quartet penned lugubrious, visceral, vulgar, truculent, abrasive nightmares. A less disordered and less pathological affair, Liar (1992) was still highly energetic, sometimes chaotic, and always galvanizing. The instrumental technique refined on Down (1994) stood as an impressive contribution to redefining the very essence of rock music. But their music was, first and foremost, a music of fear, the fear of a young urban population whose life was reduced to a series of agonizing spasms. The central character of their stories, a sort of mythological psychopath, was the collective subconscious of that population. If punk-rock had been the sound of a battlefield, the sound of Jesus Lizard was the sound of the wounded who rattled in the cold of the night.
Full bio
(Translation from the Italian by Nicole Zimmerman)

Jesus Lizard was one of the most important groups of the 90's. Their influence was instrumental in the development of hardcore, of post-rock and on all of rock and roll. Their music was distorted, deformed, sobbing, noisy, expressing the neurosis, the fear, and the claustrophobia that characterized the life of the urban youth. Their music was a spasmodic tension. Their albums were concepts dedicated to an ideal mythological figure of the psychotic (well represented by the off-key singing of Yow, one of the least gifted singers in the history of music). If punk-rock was the sound of the battlefield, then the sound of Jesus Lizard was that of the wounded crying out in agony during the long, cold nights.

Jesus Lizard was formed from the ashes of 2 important Midwestern groups: Rapeman of Steve Albini and Scratch Acid of David Yow.

Scratch Acid was one of the great Midwestern groups of the 80's, before the group broke up in 1987. For the band members in the percussion section, David Sims and Rey Waysham (one of the greatest modern drummers), the story continued in Chicago with Rapeman. After their time with Rapeman, Yow and Sims formed Jesus Lizard along with Duane Denison (classical guitarist already a member of Cargo Cult of Randy "Biscuit" Turner) at the end of 1988, replacing Waysham with a drum machine.

The EP title Pure (Touch & Go, 1989), recorded in a rough manner, contained several of their best compositions. A benefit of this was seen, above all, in the percussion, which was given an elevated march rhythm that indulged in creative mechanisms. For example, in the tribal dance of Blockbuster, with a strong, deafening percussion and torn by violent dissonance on guitar, much like Sonic Youth. The influence of Albini was noticeable, above all, in the instrumental Breaking Up Is Hard To Do, which opened with a wall of pure noise and a jackhammer in the background. The most impressive novelty of the album was the recitation of prose in the style of an actor by Yow. His "vocals" remained awkward; rarely did they have to opportunity to flow freely. Most of the time he did blathered in an evasive manner, without entering, more or less, into the conventions of rock music. The limit to this method was perhaps reached in Starlet, a track on which Yow emitted only incomprehensible sounds within the pressing noise of the percussion. No less chilling was Bloody Mary, with its strained, unconscious screaming. The lyrics were yet another novelty, thanks to their portraits of earthly hell which dominated the songs.

In the meantime, the trio called upon drummer Mac McNeilly (who played with 86 and Phantom 309 of John Forbes, headliner for Sinister Alphabet in 1989 with Tupelo) to record their first album, Head (Touch & Go, 1990). The album was more neurotic, urban, and industrial than anything Scratch Acid had composed, and presented a vibrant and exciting sound which complemented the warbled sound of the vocals. The protagonist of this album was the guitar by Denison, a weapon of noise that emitted an avalanche of sobbing, stinging sounds. Yow, once again muted (with respect to the standard of the past), had the task of traumatizing listeners with his eerie, sadistic stories narrated in a demented and cannibalistic tone (like Captain Beefheart). Yow was unleashed in Pastoral, with an atypical style that could have been from the early days of Public Image.

From the little that listeners could pick up of the lyrics, there was no doubt about the form of communication followed by the vocalist: "hey shitmouth", "my own urine", and the like. Depraved, corroded, diseased: this ultra-punk persona exhibited an obsession with bodily waste, stenches, and filth. Between voyeurism and vulgarity, Yow staged some grim stories in: If You Had Lips (with a jazzy flavor, a grunge-like recording, and the least romantic lyrics since Lydia Lunch: "When you smile/I can smell your breath/I can see the shit on your teeth") and Waxeater (violently tribal, a mix of acrobatic rock, raga-rock, and heavy-metal). On the same album these "gentlemen" penned the distressing track One Evening (the overture, dissonant, syncopated, staccato with funky bass lines), 7 Vs 8 (martial guitar recorded in the hyper-electric style of ZZ Top, fracturing visceral rhythms, with stunning and hypnotic slashing) and Good Thing (another delirious track driven by the powerful guitar resonances by Denison); all tracks served as strong emotional outlets. Tight 'N' Shiny was the transitional instrumental no less terrible than Jacket Made In Canada. The influence of Albini can be heard; the drama of this album had few rivals during the 90's and pointed to an even more catastrophic future.

This forecast was promptly confirmed by Goat (Touch & Go, 1991), a work in which the effectiveness of the instrumentals was further increased. The art of off-key storytelling by Yow reached new heights in Then Comes Dudley, a track built from his rambling, neurotic, and wise storytelling punctuated by a massive, pressing injection of boogie on the bass, as well as the sharp glissando and supersonic staccato by Denison. It was clear that Denison was one of the guitar greats by the way he attacked in Mouth Breather, in which the riff was never completed but rather repeated itself ad nauseum in a raga style. His technique was the ideal continuation of Lee Ranaldo, once a bit of the arrogant, homicidal nazi of Albini was added. There were epic pyrotechnics among the noise of the tribal Nub (one of the peaks of decibel and energy, and perhaps the masterpiece of the album), dissonant to the point of paranoia in the psychedelic chaos of Monkey Trick (another climax, with one of Denison's best solos), as well as the tense epileptic spasm that tears into the fatal morbid delirium of Lady Shoes. While the guitar was the alter ego of the album: the singing by Yow personified the psychopathic component of their art and the guitar by Denison gave a maniacal and dangerously criminal sense to their universe. Brought about by the tension and repressed brutality, the guitar paints a picture of a pure thriller. The bass of Sims, brings to memory Mike Watt and Jah Wobble, filled with mournful phrases from start to finish, accompanying Yow's dramatizations with the delicacy of a bulldozer. With original use of the drums in Seasick, one of the more dilated but less structured songs: McNeilly alternated between every sort of tempo but without losing the threads of the discourse which remained the only orderly thing, and the only thing holding it all together (in this track, Yow yelled in fear of drowning because he didn't know how to swim and demonstrated that he was one of a few who could make an inner fear seem extremely realistic). The trio then plunged into the abyss of wild violence in Karpis, where the most infantile, brutal primitivism was joined with dark despair, a storm of bestial screams and disarticulated riffs in which the listener can hear echoes of modern dance from early Pere Ubu. South Mouth was the most intense attack, closest to vintage punk-rock, but devastated by noise from the drum and guitar. Even with all this, they were able to play in a perfectly unified and coherent manner - which was possibly the most important part of the album.

Present in their mix of outrage and tragedy was the sick mind of their "godfather", Albini, but also their heritage of Southern redneck violence. There were elements of gospel, blues, boogie and even country which emerged here and there, perfectly camouflaged in the chaos. Blues was the underlying soul of the sound of Scratch Acid.

Liar (Touch & Go, 1992) definitively enshrined the group with another web of dirty, bad sounds, but was better produced. The cannibalistic vocals, the tribal rhythms, the dissonance of Sonic Youth, the maniacal speed always lying in wait, were the foundation upon which the group always built their harmonies; but the spirit was one of piecing together songs, not of delusions. The excess brutality became attractions to enliven the grim stories told by Yow. Denison once again took the lead in Gladiator, with his ups and downs (a strong, syncopated rhythm alternating with a "thrash" frenzy) towards a crescendo of guitar slashing placed on the hoarse screams of Yow. The dragging staccato on the bass and the distorted blows on the guitar dominated the overwhelming track Art Of Self Defense. A staccato storm of boogie burst out in Dancing Naked Ladies (which was more heavy-metal than any other track recorded by the group in the past and was perhaps the most direct of their career). The sound was as dynamite as the best Southern rock albums and Puss was perhaps the track that would get under the listeners skin the most.

Another influence was country music as demonstrated in Rope, the part which contained the "slapping" typical of a square dance and touched upon the more hysterical hard-core. The continued technical maturation of the band was evident in tracks like Whirl, the new instrumental in which Yow wailed in tune with the guitar, like David Thomas in the midst of terrible agony; while the trio, the most degenerate of the Midwest, constructed a morbid and hallucinated atmosphere. This expressive recording was ample and conceded moments of great drama: with a dull tone, corrupt and bored a' la Lydia Lunch in Slave Ship, marked by a grueling and martial pace by the bass and guitar played to the sound limit. Boilmaker, the brief and concise initial slogan, steals a riff from Pere Ubu's modern dance. In this album, Jesus Lizard was hard-core, above all in the trio of Gladiator, Dancing Naked Ladies and Puss: tracks in which the energy of their sound was unchanged but became focused on a more structured form of rock.

After the EP Lash (1993), with infernal punk-a-billy in Deaf As A Bat and wild guitar by Denison, came the single Fly On The Wall, an exemplary example of their maturity. The obsessive figures of the guitar (almost in a delirious raga) and the vigorous counterpoints of the bass break down an exhilarating hard-rock.

The technical maturation was completed on Down (Touch & Go, 1994): Denison was truly an artist with the guitar, capable of the most spectacular effects without even one solo. In the rhythm section David Sims and Mac McNeilly reached a level of satisfaction and harmony that would enable them to play in any jazz ensemble. Compared to the early years, singer David Yow was decreasingly in the forefront. Having attempted to learn to sing, he became purely a complement to the pyrotechnics and instrumental acrobatics that took center stage. The definitive text of this superlative power-trio was, perhaps, Low Rider, a score without words entrusted to a grammar of sound gestures that were not from any music tradition and at the same time were rooted in many genres, from blues to jazz. This accounted for much of the aesthetic and methodology that formed the basis for their (intricate and calculated) method that had a way of providing brief glimpses into the psychological abyss. In nightmarish tracks like Destroy Before Reading, the twisted discharge from Denison and the hysterical sobs from Sims served as an exploration of the depth of the subconscious. Mistletoe was propelled by a tribal rhythm by Mac McNeilly and launched by the fractured guitar of Denison in a sense of unconsciousness, while Yow yelled like Nick Cave in the grips of a hysterical crisis; it was the natural continuation from the previous album. The album brings to light the disturbed and suffering in Horse: a voodoo-billy in slow motion, boring and listless, but with a riff full of evil power, and The Associate: a traumatizing, swampy blues of visceral anxiety worthy of early Led Zeppelin and roughened by a sinister pace worthy of a 1950's crime drama. It was in this philosophical excavation, in this movement away from conventional theatrics of rock, that the new Jesus Lizard was formed. Better yet was Best Parts, a song with great effect, in which the group was able to create a hybrid of Sonic Youth and Doors (with the distortion by Denison instead of the organ by Manzarek). In all their tracks, there remains the energy and determination that always characterized the group. Queen For A Day even boasts a swinging boogie sequence a' la ZZ Top, in which culminated the classicism that was always behind their spastic movements.

More than ever, the basis upon which the group's super-human sound rested was the guitar of Denison; that cloud of harsh, neurotic, gasping sound that was able to piece together sudden, breathtaking improvs. All the violence and tension of their musical "slang" was condensed into a bold and direct dialect, no more difficult but certainly more hostile. The quality of their albums made Jesus Lizard one of the top rock groups of the 90's. Denison and Jim Kimball (drummer for the group Mule) also gave life to the group Denison Kimball Three in 1994. Shot (Capitol, 1996) was built upon the 3 aspects of the sound of Jesus Lizard: the unyielding rhythms, the free singing by Yow, and the harsh yet polished guitar by Denison. Thumper acted as a manifesto: the stormy percussion, the airy bass, the vocal oscillations by Yow somewhere between the call of the muezzin and the grunting of Johnny Rotten. A substantial part of the album was just the psychotic recital of Yow; from Thumbscrews - the morbid apex of the album to Inamorata - which presented with an almost rock-a-billy sob. The evil guitar by Duane Denison and the maniacal percussion on the bass by Sims offered moments of pure delight, such as in More Beautiful Than Barbie - an intellectual dialog between the sharp, casual, but no less scorching guitar and the constant pulsation of the drums. The bass dominated the tension in Good Riddance, while the sinister dance-music in Trephination was alienated by the atonality of the guitar. Most of the group's power to stun with their sound was lost, but their songs remained models of how music can use wild emotions.

Blue (Capitol, 1998), recorded with Jim Kimball (from Mule) as the drummer, was an album as beautiful as it was pointless despite the fact that they were the same group that produced Head, Goat, and Liar (the trilogy they produced at the beginning of the decade); as well as Down and Shot, albums that were slightly less imaginative for the mainstream audience: psychotic tempos, dynamic contortions, sharp harmonies, dense and obscure instrumentals, depressed and dark atmospheres, and lyrics that were screamed with little or no inflection, as well as desperate and claustrophobic. Blue had just a touch of funk, perhaps due to the direction of producer Andy Gill (Gang of Four). The only use of martial riffs and broken lyrics by Yow propelled I Can Learn and A Tale Of Two Women, empty songs (especially the latter) with the violent sound of evil hard-rock, almost voodoo. The group tried to mimic rap-metal in the huge shocker, Soft Damage, and recalled its hard-core past in the frenetic, unsettling Cold Water. There was no doubt that Yow and his companions focused their research on emotions (the more wild the better). They demonstrated this in Horse Doctor Man in which the suspense was built upon the thrilling bass and intermittent noise from the guitar; the disconsolate moan of And Then The Rain, which relied on the vigorous and brilliant counterpoint of guitar and bass (and boasts, perhaps, their most melodious theme of their career - this was almost Nirvana). In Until It Stopped To Rain they seemed to be searching for a sound in between the dreamlike style of Chris Isaak and the disenchanted style of Beck. Great musicians always aimed at stealing the show, including the theatrical greats of alternative rock such as Duane Denison, the bassist David Sims, and the drummer Jim Kimball (Denison and Kimball were the same members of DK3). They calibrated dissonant chords and electronic noises that made up the desolate scenario in Eucalyptus, a very tense track (6 minutes long) due to a poor melody, with a harmony (that crumbled around a theme that appeared and disappeared, dumb and deformed) that seemed to flounder behind the hiccups from the rhythm section. However, the chronic lack of vocals by Yow risked becoming a serious handicap: mumbling obscene verses on avant-garde tracks was one thing, but, if you wanted songs for the charts, the vocalist had too also sing well. The apex of the album (along with Eucalyptus) was the grim dance of Needles For Teeth, led by a melodic figure from the bass in an epic song-and-dance of percussion, distortion, electronics, and sampling. Not surprisingly, this was their only atypical song (more like Pere Ubu than Jesus Lizard).

The group was torn between two souls: one open to compromise and one that was uncompromising. The first was content to make Jesus Lizard the bearers of an intelligent and articulate ballad form, a musical consideration of the "hard-boiled-thriller" (a bit like if Soul Asylum cleaned up their act). After all, their moods, atmospheres, and psychotic tensions are strong, but, the discrete use of a keyboard by Denison and Sims foreshadowed a turning towards "industrial" for their psychodramas, bearing the marks of Nine Inch Nails, which perhaps would be a better outlet for those possessed.

In the spring of 1999m Jesus Lizard broke up.

I Jesus Lizard sono uno dei gruppi piu` importanti degli anni '90. La loro influenza e` stata determinante per lo sviluppo dell'hardcore, del post-rock e di tutto il rock and roll. La loro musica sghemba, deforme, singhiozzante, rumorosa, esprime le nevrosi, la paura, la claustrofobia che caratterizzano la vita dei giovani urbani. La loro e` musica di una tensione spasmodica. I loro dischi sono di fatto altrettanti concept dedicati a un'ideale mitologica figura di psicotico (ben rappresentato dal canto stonato di Yow, uno dei cantanti meno dotati dell'intera storia della musica). Se il sound del punk-rock era il sound di un campo di battaglia, il sound dei Jesus Lizard e` il sound dei feriti che agonizzano nel freddo della notte.

I Jesus Lizard nacquero sulle ceneri di due delle formazioni chiave del Midwest: i Rapeman di Steve Albini e gli Scratch Acid di David Yow.
Gli Scratch Acid furono uno dei grandi gruppi texani degli anni '80, prima di sciogliersi nel 1987. Per la sezione ritmica, David Sims e Rey Waysham (uno dei piu' grandi batteristi moderni), la storia continuo' a Chicago nei Rapeman di Albini. Finita anche l'esperienza dei Rapeman, Yow e Sims formarono i Jesus Lizard alla fine del 1988 con Duane Denison, chitarrista di formazione classica gia' nei Cargo Cult di Randy "Biscuit" Turner, e una drum-machine al posto di Waysham.
L'EP Pure (Touch & Go, 1989), registrato in maniera approssimativa, contiene egualmente alcune delle loro composizioni migliori. A beneficiare del nuovo corso e' soprattutto la ritmica, che impone un ritmo di marcia elevatissimo e puo' sbizzarrirsi in interventi creativi; per esempio, nella danza tribale di Blockbuster, forte di una percussivita' assordante e dilaniata da uno staccato violentemente dissonante di chitarra alla Sonic Youth. L'influenza di Albini si avverte soprattutto nello strumentale Jacket Made In Canada, aperto da una parete di puro rumore e con un sottofondo da martello pneumatico.
La novita' piu' saliente del disco e' l'atteggiamento da attore di prosa che ha assunto Yow. Le sue "vocals" sono rimaste le piu' sgraziate del decennio, ma raramente hanno modo di sfogarsi appieno. Il piu' delle volte il cantante non fa che blaterare in maniera evasiva, senza addentrarsi piu' di tanto nelle convenzioni del canto rock. Il limite di questa maniera e' forse Starlet, brano in cui Yow emette soltanto dei gracchi incomprensibili nel baccano incalzante della sezione ritmica. Non meno agghiacciante e' Bloody Mary, tutto teso su deliqui senza senso e urla a squarciagola. Le liriche, a loro volta, costituiscono un'altra attrazione, grazie ai loro affreschi dell'Inferno terreno che domina tutte le canzoni.

Nel frattempo il trio aveva chiamato a Chicago il batterista Mac McNeilly (che aveva suonato negli 86 e nei Phantom 309 di John Forbes, titolari di Sinister Alphabet nel 1989 per la Tupelo), per registrare il primo album, Head (Touch & Go, 1990). Piu' nevrotico, urbano e "industriale" di qualsiasi cosa avessero fatto gli Scratch Acid, Head presento' un sound concitato e vibrante che ben complementava i gargarismi vocali del leader. Gran protagonista del disco e' la chitarra di Denison, un'affilatissima arma di rumore che emette una valanga di suoni triturati, singhiozzanti, sferzanti. Yow, di nuovo in sordina (rispetto ai suoi standard passati), ha il compito di traumatizzare l'ascoltatore con le sue storie di macabro sadismo iper-realista narrate in un tono demenziale e cannibalesco (qui deformato ad arte per assomigliare ancor piu' a Captain Beefheart). Si sfoga in Pastoral, in uno stile rarefatto che potrebbe essere un'appendice dei primi P.I.L.
Quel poco che si afferra dei testi non lascia molti dubbi in merito alle prassi di comunicazione del cantante: "Hey shitmouth", "My own urine" e via di questo passo. Depravato, corrotto, malato, questo personaggio dell'ultra-punk manifesta un'ossessione viscerale per gli escrementi, i fetori, la sporcizia. Tra voyeurismo e volgarita' Yow mette in scena alcune delle loro storie piu' truci: If You Had Lips (con un sapore lievemente jazz, un registro di puri grugniti e i testi meno romantici dai tempi di Lydia Lunch: "When you smile/ I can smell your breath/ I can see the shit on your teeth") e Waxeater (violentemente tribale ed epilettica, un incrocio fra rock and roll acrobatico, raga-rock e heavymetal) su tutte.
Sullo stesso album questi signori dell'angoscia pennellano anche One Evening (l'ouverture, tremenda cataratta di dissonanze, staccato, sincopi, linee funky di basso), 7 Vs 8 (chitarra martellante nel registro dei boogie iper-elettrici degli ZZ Top, fratture ritmiche viscerali, fendenti ipnotici e mozzafiato) e Good Thing (altro delirio propulso dalle potenti risonanze boogie di Denison), tutti brani di forte presa emotiva. Tight 'N' Shiny e' lo strumentale di turno, non meno terribile di Jacket Made In Canada. Questa volta l'impronta di Albini si fa sentire: la drammaticita' di quest'opera ha pochi rivali nel 1990 e punta verso un futuro ancor piu' catastrofico.

Previsione puntualmente confermata da Goat (Touch & Go, 1991), opera in cui l'efficacia strumentale del quartetto e' ulteriormente aumentata.
L'arte del raccontar "stonando" di Yow tocca nuovi vertici in Then Comes Dudley, brano costruito sul suo affabulare sconnesso e nevrastenico e sapientemente punteggiato da una possente iniezione di incalzanti figure boogie del basso, nonche' dai glissando acutissimi e dagli staccato supersonici di Denison. Che quest'ultimo sia un grande della chitarra lo dimostrano attacchi come quello di Mouth Breather, in cui il riff non viene mai completato ma e' ripetuto fino alla nausea in una sorta di raga eroinomane. La tecnica di Denison e' un po' l'ideale continuazione di quella di Lee Ranaldo, una volta che sia addizionata dell'arroganza nazi-omicida di Albini. Epicamente pirotecnica nel frastuono tribale di Nub (uno dei picchi di decibel e di energia corporale, e forse il capolavoro del disco), dissonante fino alla paranoia nel caos psichedelico di Monkey Trick (un altro vertice, con un assolo vertiginoso di Denison), tesa in spasimi epilettici e sciabolate mortali nel delirio morboso di Lady Shoes, e' la chitarra l'alter ego del disco: se il canto (?) di Yow impersona la componente psicopatica della loro arte, e' la chitarra di Denison a rendere il senso maniacale e pericolosamente criminale del loro universo. Carica di tensione e di brutalita' represse, e' la chitarra ad affrescare atmosfere di puro thriller.
Il basso di Sims, dal canto suo, che ha mandato a memoria Mike Watt e Jah Wobble, martella di frasi lugubri dall'inizio alla fine, accompagnando le sceneggiate di Yow con la delicatezza di un bulldozer. Quanto sia originale anche l'uso della batteria lo si puo' ascoltare in Seasick, una delle canzoni piu' dilatate e pertanto meno strutturate: McNeilly alterna ogni sorta di tempi e di trovate, ma senza mai perdere il filo di un discorso che e' l'unico ordine, l'unica colla a tenere insieme il tutto (in questo brano Yow strilla la sua paura di morire affogato perche' non sa nuotare e dimostra di essere uno dei pochi a saper rendere in maniera estremamente realistica una paura interiore).
Il trio si immerge poi negli abissi di violenza brada di Karpis, dove il primitivismo piu' infantile e barbaro sposa la disperazione piu' buia, un uragano di urla bestiali e di riff disarticolati in cui si avvertono echi della "danza moderna" dei primi Pere Ubu. South Mouth mette infine assieme l'assalto piu' vigoroso, il meglio avvicinabile al punkrock d'annata, ma nuovamente devastato da una parete di rumore percussivo e chitarristico. Che tutto cio' riesca a suonare perfettamente unitario e coerente e' forse il merito massimo del disco.
Nella loro mistura di oltraggio e di tragedia ha certamente un peso la mente malata del loro padrino Albini, ma anche il loro retaggio sudista di violenza redneck. Tant'e' che elementi di gospel, blues, boogie e persino country affiorano qua e la', perfettamente mimetizzati nel caos generale. Il blues era, in fondo, l'anima del sound degli Scratch Acid.
Liar (Touch & Go, 1992) consacra definitivamente il gruppo con un'altra ragnatela di suoni sporchi e cattivi, semplicemente meglio prodotta. Le ruggini cannibalesche del canto, i ritmi tribali, le dissonanze alla Sonic Youth, le accelerazioni maniacali sono sempre in agguato, e costituiscono sempre i "mattoni" con cui il gruppo costruisce le proprie armonie; ma lo spirito e' quello di mettere insieme delle canzoni, non dei deliri. Gli eccessi di barbarie diventano attrazioni per movimentare le storie truci di Yow. Denison fa di nuovo la parte del leone: Gladiator, nel suo andamento altalenante (una ritmica fortemente sincopata alternata alla frenesia piu' "thrash") versa un crescendo di sciabolate chitarristiche sulle urla sgolate di Yow; lo staccato trascinante del basso e i fendenti distorti della chitarra dominano la travolgente Art Of Self Defense; una tempesta di staccato boogie incendia Dancing Naked Ladies (piu' heavymetal di qualsiasi altra cosa registrata dal gruppo in passato, e forse il brano piu' lineare della loro carriera). Il sound e' in effetti dinamitardo come nei migliori dischi di rock sudista, e Puss ha forse i riff piu' epidermici.
Un'altra influenza tutt'altro che trascurabile per le bande del Midwest e' il country, e lo dimostra Rope, che parte dallo "slapping" tipico delle quadriglie per lambire le epilessi piu' isteriche dell'hardcore.
L'ulteriore maturazione tecnica della band e' evidente in brani come Whirl, il nuovo strumentale, nel quale Yow si limita a vagire in sintonia con la chitarra, come un David Thomas in preda a una tremenda agonia, mentre il power-trio piu' degenere del Midwest gli costruisce attorno un'atmosfera morbosa e allucinata.
Il registro espressivo e' ampio e concede anche attimi di grande drammaticita': al tono languido, decadente e annoiato di Lydia Lunch rimanda Slave Ship, contrassegnata dall'incedere marziale e snervante di un basso e una chitarra tesi al limite delle possibilita' sonore. Boilermaker, il breve e concitato slogan iniziale, ruba un riff ai Pere Ubu della "danza moderna".
I nuovi Jesus Lizard sono quelli dello zoccolo duro di quest'album, ovvero il trittico di Gladiator, Dancing Naked Ladies e Puss, brani in cui l'energia del loro sound e' immutata, ma viene focalizzata verso la forma piu' strutturata della canzone rock.

Dopo l'EP Lash (1993), con l'infernale punk-a-billy di Deaf As A Bat e lo sfrenato chitarrismo di Denison ancor piu' in evidenza, esce il singolo di Fly On The Wall, esemplare della loro maturita': le figure ossessive della chitarra (quasi in delirio di raga) e i contappunti vigorosi del basso deformano un hardrock trascinante.

La maturazione tecnica si completa su Down (Touch & Go, 1994): Denison e' un vero artista della chitarra, capace di ottenere gli effetti piu' spettacolari senza indulgere in un solo assolo. La sezione ritmica (David Sims e Mac McNeilly) ha raggiunto livelli di sofisticazione e affiatamento che le consentirebbero di suonare in qualsiasi ensemble di jazz. Rispetto ai primi tempi e' il cantante David Yow ad essere sempre meno in vista, avendo tentato disperatamente di imparare a cantare, ed essendo finito per diventare un puro complemento a quello che e' ormai soprattutto uno show di pirotecnica e acrobazia strumentale.
Il testo definitivo di questo superlativo power-trio e' forse Low Rider, una partitura senza parole affidata a una grammatica di gesti sonori che e' estranea a qualsiasi tradizione e al tempo stesso e' radicata in molti generi, dal blues al jazz. Quel tanto di ascetico e metodico che e' alla base del loro (intricato ma calcolatissimo) metodo ha modo di scoprire brevi squarci di voragini psichiche. In brani-incubo come Destroy Before Reading le scariche scorbutiche di Denison e i singulti isterici di Sims servono proprio a questo: a un'esplorazione sonora delle profondita' inconsce.
Se Mistletoe, propulso dal ritmo tribale di Mac McNeilly e gettato dal chitarrismo fratturato di Denison in un senso di vertigine, mentre Yow blatera come un Nick Cave in preda a una crisi isterica, costituisce la prosecuzione naturale del disco precedente, un lato piu' inquietante e sofferto viene alla luce con Horse, sorta di voodoobilly al ralenti`, annoiato e svogliato, ma con riff che risuonano pregni di malvagia potenza, e The Associate, un traumatizzato blues di palude venato di un'angoscia viscerale degna dei primi Led Zeppelin e solcato da passi sinistri degni di un film noir degli anni Cinquanta. E' in questo scavo filologico alla rovescia, in questo continuo affrancarsi dalle convenzioni sceniche del rock, che si stanno covando i nuovi Jesus Lizard.
Meglio ancora Best Parts, canzone di grande effetto, in cui il complesso riesce persino a coniare un ibrido di Sonic Youth e Doors (con la distorsione di Denison al posto dell'organo di Manzarek).
Da tutti i brani traspare comunque la carica di energia vitale e di precisa determinazione che li ha sempre contraddistinti. Queen For A Day sfoggia anzi una travolgente sequenza di boogie alla ZZ Top, in cui culmina il classicismo che si era sempre celato dietro le loro movenze spastiche.
Il pilastro su cui poggia il sound sovrumano dei Jesus Lizard e' piu' che mai la chitarra di Denison, quel nugolo di suoni aspri, affannati, nevrotici che e' capace di coagulare in galoppi tanto improvvisi quanto mozzafiato.
Tutta la violenza e la tensione del loro slang musicale sono state condensate in un dialetto sfrontato e diretto, non piu' ostico ma soltanto ostile.
Denison e Jim Kimball (batterista dei Mule) hanno anche dato vita nel 1994 ai Denison Kimball Three.
Il livello qualitativo di tutti i loro album ha fatto dei Jesus Lizard una delle formazioni di punta del rock degli anni Novanta.

Shot (Capitol, 1996) fa leva sui tre assi del loro sound: la ritmica granitica, il canto libero di Yowl, il chitarrismo rude e forbito di Denison. Thumper funge un po' da manifesto: la batteria tempestosa, il basso pneumatico, le oscillazioni di Yow fra il lamento da muezzin e il grugnito di Johnny Rotten. Per buona parte il disco e` proprio un recital psicotico di Yow, da Thumbscrews, vertice malato del disco, a Inamorata, che propone in un singhiozzo quasi rockabilly. Le schitarrate malefiche di Duane Denison e la percussivita` maniacale del basso di Sims offrono diversi momenti di pura delizia, a partire da More Beautiful Than Barbie, un dialogo intellettuale fra gli oculati, saltuari ma non meno brucianti interventi della chitarra e la pulsazione costante del secondo. Il basso domina da solo la tensione di Good Riddance, mentre la sinistra dance-music di Trephination viene alienata dalle atonalita` della chitarra. Molto del potere stordente del loro sound e` andato perduto, ma le loro canzoni rimangono dei modelli di come fare musica usando le emozioni piu` brade.

Blue (Capitol, 1998), registrato con Jim Kimball (dei Mule) alla batteria, e` disco tanto bello quanto inutile. Sono esattamente gli stessi Lizard di Head, Goat e Liar (la trilogia che li impose all'inizio del decennio), gli stessi di Down (Touch & Go) e Shot (Capitol), album appena meno fantasiosi con cui virarono verso un sound piu` "mainstream": i tempi psicotici, le dinamiche contorte, le armonie spinose, le dense e oscure parti strumentali, le atmosfere depresse e "noir", il canto urlato e poco o nulla modulato, le liriche disperate e claustrofobiche. Appena un tocco di "dub" e funk in piu`, forse per la presenza di Andy Gill (Gang Of Four) alla produzione.
I soliti riff martellanti di Denison propellono i soliti scomposti sfoghi di Yow in I Can Learn e A Tale Of Two Women, canzoni sventrate (soprattutto la seconda) da sonorita` violente di un hard-rock malvagio, quasi voodoo. Il gruppo prova anche a scimmiottare il rap-metal alla moda con le prodigiose scosse di Soft Damage, e si ricorda del proprio passato hardcore nella frenetica e sconvolta Cold Water. Questi sono, in pratica, i candidati a singolo.
Ma e` indubbio che Yow e compagni prediligono la ricerca sulle emozioni (meglio se emozioni torbide). Lo dimostrano la sceneggiatura di Horse Doctor Man, la cui suspence e` costruita sui riff da brivido del basso e sui disturbi intermittenti della chitarra, e il lamento sconsolato di And Then The Rain, che si regge sul vigoroso e brillante contrappunto di chitarra e basso (e sfoggia forse il tema piu` melodioso della loro carriera, questo si` quasi Nirvana). In Until It Stopped To Rain sembrano anzi alla ricerca di un qualcosa a meta` strada fra lo stile onirico di Chris Isaak e quello disincantato di Beck.
A rubare la scena e` comunque la classe dei musicisti, grandi istrioni del rock alternativo come il chitarrista Duane Denison, il bassista David Sims e il batterista Jim Kimball (Denison e Kimball essendo gli stessi dei DK3). Sono calibratissimi gli accordi dissonanti e i rumori elettronici che compongono lo scenario desolato di Eucalyptus, brano (di sei minuti) tanto teso quanto povero di melodia, la cui armonia (sgretolata attorno a un tema indianeggiante che appare e scompare, muta e si deforma) sembra annaspare dietro il singhiozzo della sezione ritmica. Ma adesso la cronica carenza canora di David Yow rischia di diventare un serio handicap: un conto era biascicare versi osceni su brani d'avanguardia, ma, se queste devono essere canzoni da classifica, bisogna anche cantarle davvero.
Apice del disco (con Eucalyptus) potrebbe essere la "danse macabre" di Needles For Teeth, condotta da una figura melodica del basso in un epico bailamme di percussioni, distorsioni, elettronica e campionamenti. Non a caso, si tratta anche dell'unico brano atipico (piu` Pere Ubu che Jesus Lizard).
Il gruppo e` palesemente conteso fra due anime, una aperta al compromesso e una intransigente. La prima si accontenterebbe di fare dei Jesus Lizard gli alfieri di una forma di ballad intelligente e articolata, un corrispettivo musicale dell'"hard-boiled thriller" (un po' come i ripuliti Soul Asylum re-inventarono la ballad patetica). Dopo tutto il loro forte sono le sfumature, le atmosfere, le tensioni psichiche. Ma l'uso discreto delle tastiere da parte di Denison e Sims lascia invece presagire una svolta industriale per i loro psicodrammi, nel segno dei Nine Inch Nails, che forse costituirebbe uno sbocco piu` naturale per tanti indemoniati.

Nella primavera del 1999 i Jesus Lizard si sono sciolti.

Duane Denison formed the Denison-Kimball Three.

After a very long hiatus, David Yow joined Los Angeles' post-rock band Qui (drummer Paul Christensen and guitarist Matt Cronk) on Love's Miracle (Ipecac, 2007). Qui had already recorded Baby Kisses (Heart of a Champion, 2003) before Yow joined them.

David Yow, one of the greatest rock vocalists of all times, debuted as a solo artist, oddly enough, with an instrumental album, Tonight You Look Like A Spider (Joyful Noise, 2013). The Opening Suite is a chamber symphony that manages to shift mood at least four times within ten minutes, from horrific to stately to ghostly to grotesque. The other lengthy piece, Visualize This, is more oneiric and "industrial", built around gloomy drones and distortions. Unfortunately the rest is quite amateurish, moody vignettes that at best, mock cinematic soundtracks (Thee Itch).

(Translation by/ Tradotto da xxx)

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