Ill-Fated Cusses LP
(In The Red Records)
After the last couple of decades (basically, from 1996 forward) which have seen the release of a multitude of great albums recorded with digital platforms (like ProTools, for example), it’s refreshing to hear a band just plug in, put microphones in front of amplifiers and record their songs – straight, no chaser. That’s precisely what Cheater Slicks did for their new album, Ill-Fated Cusses; for their fifteenth album, the band simply puts musicianship at the forefront of their songs, hits ‘Record’ and captures what comes. There is no click track – the band has a drummer to keep time. Guitars, bass and keyboards get played – not programmed – and two members of the band provide vocals. There is no pitch correction – that’s what talent is for. No punching in to correct a bum note or phrasing – that’s what talent is for. On Ill-Fated Cusses, Cheater Slicks plays the songs; no excuses, no bullshit – and the results are the best they could make.
As soon as needle catches groove and “The Nude Intruder” opens the A-side of Ill-Fated Cusses, all of the variables listed above (no click track, no pitch correction – the instruments are even just a hair out of time both with each other and with the singer) are lined up to be counted as well as taken or left at listeners’ discretion – thereby basically saying, “This is who we are and what we do – if you can’t handle it, see yourself out.” In most any context, such a presentation could easily be seen as off-putting, but the power of the performance is the hook which keeps listeners’ attention from deviating; were Cheater Slicks or “The Nude Intruder” any less impressive or infectious, listeners might be able to wriggle free of the song but, because the song is so tight, listeners will want to make sure they ingest every microtone.
After “The Nude Intruder” sets the stage for the album, Cheater Slicks set about fleshing their vision for Ill-Fated Cusses out. “Fear” manages to get a little more imposing and (yes) fearsome in its demeanour by adding a single-note keyboard figure that also adds some extra tension as well as huge guitar sounds and howling vocals before shifting gears and finding some spry and nearly poppy tones which revisit the AM radio simplicity of the Sixties on “The #4” and then bottling a believable facsimile of the energy which made the first signings to Fat Possum Records (simple, Mississippi blues) the institution it was on “Cold Dark Night.” While listeners may contend that nothing is particularly surprising or impressive about how Ill-Fated Cusses develops, they also won’t be inspired to turn away from it; the ease with which each song plays speaks to every member of Cheater Slicks’ experience on their respective instruments and, while the songs are simple, they’re also unbelievably solid. So solid, in fact, that even the spoken-word and musique concrete aspects of side-closer “Lichen” prove to be ineffective at putting listeners off [although does that spoken-word ever try –ed], and listeners will still be interested to hear what the B-side holds.
…And the B-side proves to hold the greatest treasures of the album’s running as soon as stylus sinks into it. Right off, “Reaching Through” is capable os ensnaring fans of early Flaming Lips with its raspy vocals and poppy guitar parts, and the Slicks hold that position (while also introducing a greater soupçon of Sixties influence, again) through “Garden of Memories” and “Flummoxed by the Snafu.” Wisely, none of the songs extend to the point that they’re in danger of testing any listener’s patience and, while “Coming Back To Me” is easily the worst cut on the album (the half-baked vocals make a four-minute song feel miles longer), listeners will still hang around to see how “Far Away Distantly” wraps the running (which isn’t great, but isn’t pitiable, either), and won’t feel as though their time was wasted when the side ends.
So how does Ill-Fated Cusses play, as a whole? While there’s no question that the album is not perfect (it could have been trimmed down to an EP’s worth of really good and memorable cuts), it’s easy to recognize how good the great songs on the album are, and it’s easy to recognize how effortlessly they came to the band. And because they clearly came so easily too, those who run front-to-back with Ill-Fated Cusses will find themselves hoping that Cheater Slicks finds the time to make another album soon; something which comes this easy definitely wants a second helping. [Bill Adams]
Ill-Fated Cusses is out now. Buy it here, directly from In The Red Records.