December, 2008: the end of a rough year for many and a time for many of us to get all reflective about what was good about the year, things we are thankful for, etc. Allow me a minute of your time to say that if you are reading this column, one of the items at the very top of your list should be the fact that tiny record labels such as Sacred Bones still exist, and that there are still people out there—like the folks who run this label—who are sticking their necks out so lousy folks like us can hear, see, and hold their beautifully-packaged and thoughtfully assembled discographies.
I am not joking. This is important stuff for a handful of us.
If it doesn’t make sense to you to treat a tiny record label, still practically in its infancy, so seriously, it may be that you haven’t purchased their offerings from 2008, wrapping up neatly with two monstrous LPs, the debut of Seattle’s Children’s Hospital and the anticipated full-length from infamous Country Teasers side project the Rebel. Both records, while quite different in sound and approach, could be exemplars of the Sacred Bones experience.
In one hand you have Children’s Hospital, out of the A-Frames/Seattle experimental axis, a duo with male and female vocals beneath a cauldron of apocalyptic, industrial disease. Seattle can be a bleak place for seasons at a time, but the sound coming out of Alone, Together is much more sinister, as the band crawl from guitar-spiked dirges ("Unseen") to slimy, pulsating, keyboard driven mood pieces like "After the Aftermath." The two are obviously indebted to some of post-punk’s permanent inmates, from Throbbing Gristle to This Heat to the less obvious SPK. But leftfield influences like the Sun City Girls and David Lynch-cohort Angelo Badalamenti can also be detected, refreshing for a record with such a thick, industrial oil on its surface. The special edition of this release is a CD plus full-color photo book featuring shots from a single pre-war children’s hospital. Look for their ornate boxed set on the Vinyl-On-Demand label in 2028.
In the other hand is a full helping of Ben Wallers, lead man of the Rebel, Country Teasers, and a small but devoted legion of scumbags from both sides of the pond. Few musicians these days can truly call themselves rebels, and Wallers is one of them, offending without trying, touching all the wrong spots without asking, and usually hitting the nail right on the head. Recorded in a single day at WFMU studios, Northern Rocks Bear Weird Vegetable is a record many years in the making, as it sees Wallers picking some of his previously released staples along with plenty of new material, while recruiting a full band separate from his Teasers to enact his inconveniences.
With Northern Rocks, Wallers has officially stolen the drunkenly waved gun-as-torch from Mark E. Smith, in the process mocking the defenseless old man with lines like, "Is there anybody there?/ I am losing my hair." Because Mr. Wallers is out front here as the Rebel, rather than with Teasers, his words attract the most attention. In a way, this makes it a somewhat flawed release, as he tends to let his disgust for mankind get in the way of fun more than once. The band is great and keeps up and down with all Wallers has to say, but they never really get into it like his other group does. So there’s a bit less to bite into, and more of you getting bit.
Taken as a whole, though, the record is as good as much of his Teasers output, a very worthwhile 45 minutes into the mind of a modern social scientist. Wallers’ barbed tongue lashes modest civilians ("Bums on a Rock" is revisited, thankfully) and celebrities (Scarlet Johansen, England) alike. This album’s special edition is apparently the most extravagant limited release yet in the Sacred Bones pantheon, with hand-stitched black velvet sleeves to soften Ben’s harsh realities. Put it on while you put a few back, naturally, just don’t expect to dance to it unless you’re alone, pissed and behind locked doors.