KILLDOZER – The Last Waltz
(2005 Crustacean Records)
There is something innately Madisonian about missing something incredible that’s festering right under our collective nose. The juxtaposition of Killdozer and Crustacean Records seems to illustrate that point nicely. This town never seemed to fully grasp what Killdozer was pushing, though Kurt Cobain and Steve Albini caught on. Nor has this town seemed to grasp the talent hidden under the moniker of Crustacean Records, though some soon-to-be musical genius is almost certainly destroying his/her parents’ speakers by turning up Drunk Drivers and the Skintones far too loud and too frequently. This marriage is almost like poetry… sticky, grimy, filthy, stark, beautiful fucking poetry.
The romance of red vinyl cannot be overstated. Pulling the record from the sleeve, that slight hint of petroleum and love filling your nose, the glistening grooves calling to just let their vibrations free, was a moment that was not lost on me. As the stylus found the groove, the short hiss of static filled the room for a scant second before a simple whistle introduced the voice of founder and frontman Michael Gerald announcing that the first track, “Porky’s Dad,” is dedicated to “the nation of Sweden.” His bass then grinds out the grit that inspired post-punk and indie rock fanatics throughout the late 80s and into the 90s. This record was it for this band, the proverbial swan song, the nasty, sweaty goodbye. However, this is the first time it’s been available on vinyl. While some may miss the point, those who love records, and I fucking love records, live for moments when a label like Crustacean puts out a record like The Last Waltz.
But as with any great record, it’s the music that makes it all worthwhile. Killdozer are freaks who layer tone on top of tone, with simple driving drums pushing them forward, grudgingly and noisily. While their sound inspired the grunge movement, in no way does it emulate it. The dreary aural decrepitude that became Killdozer’s hallmark sound in the 80s was replaced by a political consciousness wrapped in a loosely defined groove. While The Last Waltz is a slick hunk of wax, it may not be the best primer for the uninitiated. Songs like “The Nobbies” or “A Mother’s Road,” while remaining decidedly Killdozarian, are not as off-putting and sardonic as this band is known to be.
That said, the performances throughout, captured in Milwaukee during their “Fuck You, We Quit” tour, are passionate and piercing enough to generate a disturbingly lucid farewell. The wall of feedback-laden guitar groans at the end of “Richard” or the aggressive plodding of “A Xmas Song” are cocky assaults on pop music formulae while the southern swank of “Knuckles the Dog” offers a counterpoint that builds this particular Killdozer performance into something very much about the moment. As “Knuckles” breaks into mutating noises for a second before the back porch riff comes back into focus, the story of Killdozer makes too much sense.
And then comes “Mama’s Boy,” the last track (on the record, though the CD version contains the actual last tracks, whatever that means. To be fair, due to length restrictions inherent in mastering vinyl, the sound quality would have been damaged had Crustacean tried to fit any more music on the record itself). It’s surprisingly upbeat and then suddenly manic. This tune is the bipolar goodbye from a harshly visionary band that died in a pit of pop music that just didn’t say anything at all. “Mama’s Boy” cries with feedback and pain before raging one last time to the close. Maybe on CD, without the repetitive skips that echo around the room when the needle stays trapped on that last thin groove, the end sounds different. Maybe on CD, with the hi-tech rainbow refractions replacing the striped red vinyl sheen, the band reunites, writes about lost love and tours the world as heroes. But on this record, the band breaks up after “Mama’s Boy” comes crashing to its frenetic close. You can have your CD, asshole. I hope your cheery bits of digital data never interrupt my squalid, analog goodbye.