Roberto Bolano once said that “literature is the product of a strange rain of blood, sweat, semen, and tears.” In a recent interview, Indian Jewelry front man Tex Kerschen admitted to being heavily engrossed in the Mexican-Chilean author’s work during the recording of Totaled. On this, Indian Jewelry’s fourth LP, the creative synergy between Bolano and Indian Jewelry is apparent. Much of Bolano’s masterpiece, 2666, centers around the disarming grit and chaos of Santa Theresa and other NAFTA-infected border towns. A band rooted in Houston and all things Texas, it is a world that Indian Jewelry must have some understanding of. Geography aside, Indian Jewelry have always made claustrophobic, paranoid music, proffering a sound that Bolano would perhaps see fit to soundtrack the complicated misery of maquiladoras.
Totaled finds Indian Jewelry mining the same fertile creative soil as on past releases. The band’s music exists at this nexus of primitive rock ‘n’ roll and more high-minded experimentalism. It’s the exact, very unique point at which Suicide made their two famous self-titled albums. There is a certain push and pull between the two forces, of exiting a simple guitar-based world but contending with obstinate new technology, like trying to squeeze water from a rock. Granted, Indian Jewelry is making music some 30 years after “Ghost Rider” was painfully constructed, but it’s as though they willfully constrain themselves to a wonderfully limited mode of operation.
These two central concepts — Bolano’s Sonoran towns of rural immigrants caught between the gears of rapid industrialization, and Indian Jewelry’s being pulled apart by the contradictions inherent in an idea such as progressive primitivism — are at the heart of Totaled. Despite the overriding darkness of the album, its not without pop highlights. “Diamond Things” is a track that fits nicely in a mix alongside the twisted ill-wave of oOoOO and the melancholic “chillwave” of Memory Tapes. It’s penned by IJ’s other main songwriter, Erika Thrasher, who is responsible for most of the album’s more uplifting moments. Lead single “Oceans” is another Thrasher gem, a synth pop number that would make even Gary Numan crack a twisted, robotic smile.
Tex Kerschen’s offerings strongly uphold the distorted gutter glamor that the band has come to be known for. The man once said, “I don’t trust anyone who doesn’t have dirty hands,” and his songs on the record exude a purple haze that is specific to Houston, a sentiment and mode of creation of which the late DJ Screw would approve. In the same breath that Kerschen’s songs are as slow and disorienting as the best screwed H-Town rap, there is also a pinch of Flexi-Pop appreciation. Minimal wave appreciators will hear the closeness to such beloved, ultra-obscure bands like Mekanik Commando and Dark Days on songs like “Simulation” and “Lapis Lazuli.”
Ultimately, Totaled is a fairly typical Indian Jewelry release. Over the three preceding records, the band has built up a loyal following by creating dark, gritty, but tuneful music. This album slots in nicely to the band’s catalog as yet another release with undoubted new wave pop sensibilities fluttering amongst more damaged, foreboding vibes. Thrasher once stated her desire to score a “Mexico of the Mind.” With Totaled, Indian Jewelry have done much to soundtrack the desperation, the misery, and the beauty of Bolano’s late-20th-century Mexico.