Guinea Worms
Columbus Discount

For more than a decade, it has been Will Foster’s irreverence that has defined the Guinea Worms project. Equal parts pun-heavy goof, drunken whimsy, and low-rent spontaneity have propelled the Worms through a long line of essential singles, CDRs, line-up changes and ludicrous live shows . But yet there has never been a “proper” full-length to Foster’s credit. Surely those who have been around since the beginning were awestruck with the release of Sorcerers of Madness, a culmination of Foster’s great deeds spread amongst his prolific discography, but even then the only thread that held it together was the shape-shifting nature of Foster’s mirth. The current Worms roster—Gary Brownstein on guitar, Danny Moreland on bass, and Mat Bisaro on drums—has been behind Foster the longest. It shows on Smiles, the first Guinea Worms album completed in whole, that is, written and recorded and finished in a reasonable amount of time to make a record. Not that anything Foster has accomplished before should be diminished, but Smiles looks, feels, and sounds like a monstrous achievement. Cohesive? Perhaps, but then again the Guinea Worms would be nothing were they not unhinged. Reflective? There’s no such thing in Foster’s world as he’s always moving forward, looking for the next topical artifice to dismantle with his acerbic wit and jarring riffs. Sophisticated? Well, Smiles is sonically superior to everything else in the Worms’ canon, but there are no extra frills to ornament their sludgy dirge and drone. If there’s anything that truly puts Smiles above all else, it’s that Foster has chosen to keep his wilder voices in check, letting the force of his band charge first.

Smiles is the Guinea Worms at their least jokey, if only because the humor here is cut with a more ominous and sinister glee. There are huge, glacial shifts in songs like “Exit Plan” and “We’ll Get on That,” where Foster’s inner monologue, half-spoken, half-shouted, butts up against dumptruck blues akin to Flipper ingesting a can of expired duster. “Monkey Casino” could easily become fun and games, but here the lyrics rant quite luridly from a man known for his lurid tales. Like much of the record, it’s grim and menacing, leading with a martial stomp made from caveman brutality. With a majority of the songs surpassing the five-minute mark, these trudge along as brooding epics (see, for instance, the engaging thrall of “Man Will He”) and less like garage standards. Again, the band has become a well-oiled machine of raucous depravity, with plenty of slashing leads, awkward tunings and off-notes that create a disorienting dread and a bottom thump that could leave a bruise. Still, it would be fairly ugly rawk were it not for the dimension of carnal leisure that Foster injects into his songs. The jib of his bummer storytelling is unmatched among those who trade in downer punk of this ilk. Whether it is whiskey or gossip he’s “sipping,” the Guinea Worms work on Smiles is a happy half-hour of irreverence refined, chewed up and spit back out in globs of dark, chunky ooze you want to scoop off the pavement and save for later.
Kevin J. Elliott