King Loser

Caul of the Outlaw

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Right from the fractured start of "Troubled Land," with a notably scrabbly crackle of feedback wreaking havoc behind what could almost be a Lee-and-Nancy semi-country psychodrama, King Loser are out to tweak with indie rock expectations, even from their own neck of the woods. Call it Krautrock for the nineties if one wants -- it fits the bill like it did for many other bands of the time -- but King Loser has its own particular sharp kick. The vocal tag-team of Chris Heazlewood and Celia Mancini keep up that level of dank tension throughout the album. The nearest comparison point would be Roxanne Stephen and Tom Cullinan from th' Faith Healers, but here there's an air of diffident threat, if that can be imagined, when the two of them trade off lines. Their solo turns are no less effective, with Mancini holding the slight edge thanks to her air of slow-burn cool set off every so often by a sudden scream. The combination of his guitar and her keyboard both -- both usually beaten about with distortion, effects pedals and who knows what else -- makes everything a lovely, smeary mess. When Mancini and appropriately named drummer Tribal Thunder kick in the trance grooves, meanwhile, everything charges ahead with a confident air. Overall the group suggests -- but wisely never exactly sounds like -- everything from the Velvet Underground and Can to Swell Maps and Sonic Youth, a combination of influences spiked with their own particular brand of sneering, clattering noise. Some parts almost suggest film noir, like the nagging note on "Cyclonic Vibration" (piano, guitar?) or the smoky guitar twang of "Lazenby's Folly" (the title a smart, knowing reference to the most obscure James Bond of them all). It's perhaps all self-consciously cool in the end, but a darn good brand of cool at that.

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