Kid Congo Powers and The Pink Monkey Birds Gorilla Rose

[In The Red; 2011]

Styles: garage, glam, rock ‘n’ roll
Others: The Cramps, Grinderman, The Gun Club, The Monks, The New York Dolls, Lou Reed

Imagine a “beach blanket noir,” a story of crime, violence, and illicit passion (read: lust but not love) set in 1960s L.A. — in doing so you’ll get some idea of the maelstrom to which Kid Congo Powers acts as maestro on his most recent album. Gorilla Rose is a playful work (this is apparent even in the titles: “Goldin Browne,” anyone?) which, methodology-wise, constructs repetitive, crunchy, not-quite-motorik garage rhythms and riffs over which Powers half-sings, half-speaks distorted, husky monologues. There are no revelations for anyone who bump-‘n’-grooved to 2009’s Dracula Boots; as we’ve come to expect from Powers’ solo work, there’s none of the darkness of groups like The Gun Club or The Bad Seeds (though one wonders about the somewhat dubiously-titled “Injun War Crimes”). Neither do we encounter the alt-country of Michael Gira’s Angels of Light or The Divine Horsemen; while the swampiness of Jeffrey Lee Pierce or Congo Norvell is apparent only in the scuzzy sonic sludge that coats the album. Instead, the Kid’s here to chew bubblegum and rock out… and he’s all out of bubblegum.

But the marks that Powers has left on others, and those they’ve left on him, are evident: one moment we’re monkeying around with a greasy playfulness reminiscent of The Cramps, Knoxville Girls, or the mid-life-crisis rock of Grinderman, the next we’re into the indolent pulsing grind of Barry Adamson. Without wanting to pander to stereotypes, we may observe that Powers’ work both stands within and expands a rockin’ tradition of Chicano garage. And there are even hints of the surfier moments of Die Haut. But it’s the slower tracks that work best. One standout is “Catsuit Fruit,” a throatily sleazy recitative of the eponymous flora; but the touching “Lullaby in Paradise” — reminiscent of Lou Reed or late Iggy Pop, and alternating between languid exotica and floor-stomping rock — is another highlight. And sandwiched between the jams there are a number of narrative moments that recall Tom Waits or the Adamson connection — namely, the punky, (auto?)biographical “Our Other World” and the ultra-noir “Flypaper.”

In his heady youth, Kid Congo (after a stint as president of the Ramones fanclub) ran a fanzine for LA synthpunks The Screamers, and this album is named for neglected Screamers associate Gorilla Rose. Like Rose, Congo himself has never found the fame of the acts with which he’s been associated, a fact that can only be lamented given his perverse versatility and guitar chops, very much in evidence here. As there are no surprises, unpleasant or otherwise, so there are no tunes that will earworm you, but I wouldn’t call this music that lacks in penetration (except the common-or-garden market variety). Like any (never-gonna-be) respectable Pink Monkey Bird, Powers seems content to lie low, and, in doing so, fulfil his calling to be a rock ‘n’ rollin’ bitch for you. Amen, brother.

Links: Kid Congo Powers and The Pink Monkey Birds - In The Red

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