The Red Krayola Introduction

[Drag City; 2006]

Rating:  4/5

And so Mayo Thompson, the brainchild behind the Red Krayola emerges in yet
another decade. He's been doing this since the '60s – being prolific, then
laying low, reemerging, then minding his own business, only to appear again in
another decade. Over the course of his elusive career, he's worked with Roky
Erickson, Pere Ubu, The Raincoats, Cabaret Voltaire, and Epic Soundtracks to
name just a few. While Drag City continues to reissue relics of his past, this
is his first full-length of new material in the 21st century. If he's up to his
old tricks, perhaps we'll see a couple more before the decade is over.

His lineup hasn't changed much since the '90s and includes long-time collaborator
Tom Watson, as well as Drag City stalwarts John McEntire and Steven Prina. New
additions to the ensemble include bassist Noel Kupersmith and accordions by
Charlie Abel. As usual, instruments are barely staying in tune and Thompson's
quivering voice is still determined to cramp obtuse sentences with no rhyme
scheme into musical phrases that are too small. These traits make this music
immediately recognizable as The Red Krayola, but Thompson sounds older and more
modest than ever before. I'm reminded of when I first heard The Boatman's
by Nick Cave. It's some heavy shit, but in a very somber way. Both The
Boatman's Call
and Introduction are made by artists who have already gone
through their proverbial infant and bratty teenager phases. Thompson's voice has
softened, and the pretentious yet wacky overtones found in much of his material
have subsided. There are still moments that feel similar to being a kid in a
locker room, with your naked grandfather telling bad jokes to his other naked
friends (uhh, please tell me that's happened to somebody else here). Like
grandpa not realizing that a 12-year-old probably won't understand his
Depression-era jokes or thinking about how incredibly uncomfortable he's making
you feel, Thompson executes exactly what he hears in his head without thinking
of what it might sound like on tape. It's a trait that continues to keep his
music unique, if not awkward, but gives Introduction personality and charm
without being overbearing.

If his peculiar idiosyncrasies bothered you before, then it's doubtful that Mayo
Thompson is going to win you over as a senior citizen; however, this is one his
most accessible albums to date. His songwriting is in top form, and like 1970's
Corky's Debt To His Father, he sounds soulful, humanistic, and not bogged
down by heavy handed lyricism. "It Will Be (Delivered)" and "Vexations" (which
bears an uncanny resemblance to Crooked Rain-era Pavement) are some of the
catchiest songs he's ever written. Introduction is a refined version of what
we heard in the '90s and a far cry from his politically didactic work with Art
and Language from the '70s and '80s. It proves that Thompson is not just making
music for his and his friends' own masturbatory purposes or with an agenda that
only makes sense to the artistic elite. His lyrics are still didactic and
politically informed, but Thompson sounds relaxed, humbled, and focused on making
memorable songs for whomever will stop to listen.

As endearing as Thompson is this time around, and as much as he makes me feel
like I could be his buddy with an open invite to stop by for a beer, it's still
his world that we're listening to. We'll never know exactly what he's thinking,
and sometimes we have to be content to just listen in curiosity. During the
spoken word title track which opens the album and serves as its modus operandi,
we hear the lyrics, "Items live and die from recognizable use," "To nail down
a meaning/ is to make something leaning/ on nothing at all,"
and "You heard me
right/ Or am I wrong?/ What's the matter with me/ You?"
His statements reinforce
his need for constant experimentation as a part of human evolution. He also
confirms that his music is indeed honest with its listeners and not just an
ironic art prank, however he negates the responsibility of explaining himself.
Thompson is content with the music speaking for itself, and if it doesn't meet
our standards, then the problem must be our predispositions and not any fault of
his. Although the argument could be made that this defeats the purpose of an
audience, people have acquired a taste for his cannibalized rock music, as they
have for William Burroughs' cut-up novels, Chris Burdon's self inflicted art
experiments, and anything else that challenges the most vital organs of the
medium it's working within. As has always been the case with The Red Krayola,
either we
can wait until Introduction is ripe for a history book and become so cynical
that we never allow ourselves to be confused, or we can try to listen right
now, with open ears and no expectations.

1. Introduction
2. Breakout
3. Cruise Ship
4. Note to Selves
5. L.G.F.
6. A Tale of Two…
7. Psy Ops
8. It will be (Delivered)
9. Puff
10. Greasy Street
11. Vexations
12. Elegy
13. When She Went Swimming
14. Swerving
15. Bling Bling


Some releases are so incredible we just can’t help but exclaim EUREKA! While many of our picks here defy categorization and explore the constructed boundaries between ‘music’ and ‘noise,’ others complement, continue, or rupture traditions that provide new forms and ways of listening. Not all of our favorites will be listed here, but we think each EUREKA! album is worthy of careful consideration. This section is a work-in-progress, so expect its definition to be in perpetual flux.

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