The Bark Haze Total Joke Era [CD Version]

[Important; 2007]

Styles: two-pronged guitar and effects drone-fest
Others: Loren MazzaCane/Connors, Roy Montgomery, Bardo Pond + Tom Carter, Sonic Youth, Gown

Dead comedian Lenny Bruce was dead wrong when he claimed "there's nothing sadder than an old hipster." Not that 48-year-old Thurston Moore is neither old if we are going by the standards of anyone important, nor necessarily a "hipster" in the same manner as Bruce meant. However, Moore is the summit of hip to the thousands upon thousands of rabid followers (and even aloof admirers), and at this stage in the game, any new release is greeted as an event, regardless of its "significance." For every salivating SY fan waiting for the next full-length album there is an eager noise-guitar addict chomping at the bit for side-project table scraps that still get tossed from the big band table with surprising regularity. The Bark Haze -- a mixed-up mondegreen of the legendary Stax instro combo The Bar-Kays -- is Moore's guitar improv collaboration project with the complex cat (and recent Tiny Mix Tapes tour diarist) Gown. Live, the duo is often augmented by folk like John Maloney (Sunburned, etc.) or Pete Nolan (Magik Markers, etc.) smashing drum-like objects, but on Total Joke Era, twin axes are the only weapons of mass seduction. Bring on some ear ulcers!

Not quite. Two "songs" recorded in Northampton, MA in September 2006, both slow-burners called "Punchline," grace this Bill Nace-illustrated CD (the limited vinyl version has different music than the CD). "Punchline 1" is the shorter of the two tracks and also the more lovely, if 11 minutes of wobbly sparseness can be described in such a manner (it can). Featuring creaking, creaking noises and an outpouring of percolation, the piece is trumped by a backing built on metronomically-plucked sour notes which act as a meditative mantra before dying out. The second "Punchline" is more macabre in sound but in no way less enjoyable. Clocking in at 24-plus minutes, it showcases effects ad nauseum. Parts shuffle between the coaxing of a hesitant voice from a guitar suffering with a bad stutter, feral feedback hunting for a place to spend the night, and the stock cine-sound that is always paired with the lightning of a Tesla coil in the movies. Attempting to humanize a guitar-laden release such as this is an exercise bordering on absurd, but it is also the easiest way to explain things heard on this longer pot-simmerer.

Yes, two "songs" only, but they contain everything you would expect from such a clever and enthusiastic tandem. A satisfying curio on its own, The Bark Haze is one of the brightest and best moves Moore has made in the past couple of years. For Gown, the pairing provides a perfect outlet for his more rambunctious tendencies. Total Joke Era contains no digital trickery and no revolutionary statement. It is the result of two men standing on one stage playing two guitars through various effects pedals into an amplified source then fed back out, pure and simple. It is a charming A4-zine in a world of gushing glossies with perfume-inserts. Thank goodness for "old hipsters."

1. Punchline 1
2. Punchline 2

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