Chain And The Gang
Down with Liberty... Up with Chains!
(K Records)

I have a new record stuck on repeat: Down with Liberty... Up with Chains! by Chain and the Gang, the newest project from Washington, D.C., agit-punk genius Ian Svenonius (to adapt a Courtney Taylor–ism, this guy sneezes and manifestos come out). On Down with Liberty..., Svenonius and his (mysterious) gang churn out yet more groovy, bare-bones funk over which Svenonius waxes crypto-political and meta-textual.

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"Trash Talk" tackles the evolution of critical shit-talk from magazines to satellite beams and less elevated democratic forums, even incorporating the catch phrase of The Critic ("I went into the bathroom to see what the people think/Let me tell you, it stinks!"). On "Reparations," Svenonius demands recompense from the government, the schools, the TV, and the listener; on "What Is a Dollar?" he breaks down Das Kapital over molasses-thick bass and descending organ lines: "I'll tell you what a dollar is/See, it's an internationally traded increment of worth/Yeah, it's bigger than you or me/It's bigger than you and me put together/It's also called currency/The way that it works, you get your money if you do something that you don't like to do/Something that's abhorrent to you." "Deathbed Confession" recounts alternate histories and conspiracy theories with just a bit of a nod to the Stones' "Sympathy for the Devil." On "Unpronounceable Name," Svenonius riffs over some helium-filled horns about miscommunication and obscurity ("I don't know what to call you, 'cause the music is so loud/I guess I'll fade into the crowd/As the years go by, I'll try to remember your name"). Throughout it all, female vocalists (many of whom sound a lot like, but apparently aren't, frequent Spiv collaborator Michelle Mae) provide alternately spooky and cooing background vocals/counterpoints as Svenonius lapses from singing to speech-making and back.

Best of all is "Interview with the Chain Gang," which begins with a telephone ringing, then erupts into fried guitar, martial snare pulse, bass rumble, and tinkling piano flourishes. The song is a Q&A, a condensed parody of the dreaded "15-minute phoner," with a female vocalist (finding reliable credits for this album is like looking for Jimmy Hoffa's body) playing the role of the press, asking Svenonius, in a stoned, passive monotone, if he has time to talk, allowing him to "repeat" and answer a series of the most banal questions possible: "Hello, this is your one o'clock interview, I've got some questions to ask you." "How did we get our name? It just came to me." "Oh?" "How do we describe our sound? Something we just found/Yeah we dug it up out of the ground." It ends with the woman amazed ("No one's ever said that before/No one's put it like that before/No one has ever said it before quite the way you did"), but with more than just a hint of sarcasm between the lines. This sort of thing is basically like the music-critic equivalent of the CIA flooding the ghetto with crack cocaine. Which is to say, I can relate to being on the business end of an interview, and I am totally hooked on this album. recommended

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