Natural Child: 1971 (Infinity Cat)
By The Reverend Wayne Coomers
Since you’re likely weeding through everyone’s year-end Top 10s, and you’re undoubtedly noticing a similarity between several of them around the top spot, let me share this quote from Pitchfork’s Mark Richardson from his review of Bon Iver earlier this year: “There’s something irresistible about the thought of a bearded dude from small-town Wisconsin retreating, heartbroken, to a cabin to write some songs.” I ask you, has rock and roll come to this, when someone can lead a review this way, with a straight face—irresistible? really?—and not instantly get the piss taken out of him (at least)? It wouldn’t be so bad if indie Interweb groupthink weren’t compelling everyone to agree with Richardson, who otherwise seems a decent writer. And it is groupthink—so effective that I am willing to bet what little money I have left for the month that you WON’T read about Natural Child’s terrific, rocking, and hilarious 1971 on any major blog, or see it in any of their Top 40s. It is simply the best album (of many, I’d also wager) that the year-end juries are seemingly obligated to ignore. This Nashville trio, so far untainted by their proximity to Jack White, would have released one of the best albums of 2010 had they gotten off the bong long enough to morph the songs from their 45s and EPs into an album: they do for pot what LAMF did for smack—make it seem not like drooling torpor, but rabble-rousing kicks (and thankfully, this time around, it is weed). I wouldn’t even know anything about them myself had I not seen them one afternoon at Scion’s free music festival in Lawrence in 2010, and even then I thought I was marking time until the big boys’ shift. Looking like they’d just awakened from a cannabis coma (which they very well may have: their Twitter handle is naturalchild420), the band stumbled out on stage and knocked out a sloppy-riff-heavy set of catchy tunes about cougars who “got those eyes,” mountains of crack, post-bad-sex shame-walkin’, the confusion (and occasional social ineptitude) inherent in being white, not being partied with, and Cocksucker Blues blues (the italics of which phrase I am not entirely sure are just mine). Primarily, I was delighted by their lack of self-consciousness; secondarily, those sloppy riffs weren’t deafeningly loud or martially disciplined, they were simply catchy and rockin’ and movin’; and thirdly—these gradations are microscopic—they projected as a smart Spinal Tap, and that’s definitely a compliment. I have gained so much pleasure from their hazy, cock-eyed innocence, their total lack of pretension, their slightly variable persona (a slob hanging by his fingernails from the ledge of mere sustenance, grinning), their strange, bass-driven rhythms, and their commitment to FUN that I keep expecting to be disappointed, but keep getting surprised: earlier this year by their Scion single “The Jungle” (split with Strange Boys), then by 1971, which, when a young friend gifted me with it (on cassette, no less—it’s also available on vinyl and as a download, but not as a CD), I put off listening to it, thinking that a drop-off in quality, and thus my delight, was inevitable. Fortunately, I was dead wrong. These boys have a gift.
1971 kicks off with a recipe for “Easy Street,” circa USA 2011, complete with demands (each line begins with a verb, as in “Autotune my c*ck”) and sub-Slade clap-stomp. Absolutely nothing about Wes Traylor (bass), Seth Murray (guitar), and Zack Martin (drums) gives off the whiff of virtuosity. As mentioned above, they have a serious knack for riffs, but nothing you couldn’t work out in an afternoon. In fact, sometimes I have the suspicion that Traylor’s bass often seems mixed as the lead instrument ‘cause it’s just as catchy asMurray’s six-string, like they are a garage-rock Brewer Phillips and Hound Dog Taylor. Next up, lest you should think the boys expect everything and scoff at the notion of earning anything, is “Hard Workin’ Man,” though they just “wanna work for [their] girl,” not stuff. Another highlight of the distinctly solid first side is “Makin’ It (with Dad),” which, fortunately, is not about incest, but rather a day spent with (hard-workin’) Pops, who advises The Kid to “cut [the] bullshit…get high…live like a refugee….feel the hand of a God…[and] lose control of yourself.” Hard to beat, that!
The “B” side (again, cassette and vinyl only in hard copy form) leads with what reads and sounds like something Lennon left off of Plastic Ono Band. It features the line “She makes all my friends think I’m gay/But I’m not, so that’s OK.” It is called “Yoko.” This is followed by a rough ballad called “Let It Bleed” (either about murder, the curse, dead love, or all three) and a pleasantly ragged sequel to the title song of their 2010 Infinity Cat “White Man’s Burden” EP called “White People.” Natural Child aren’t dum dums like the Stooges or Tap or Trio; they’re not as confused as them, and they don’t mind thinking about the problems of the day, especially those that are in their own backyard, but they aren’t about to get mired in ponderousness: “White people/All they want is control….They ain’t got no style/Can’t keep it cool/‘cause their life’s too precious/Got too many rules.” You don’t say? Well, alright! “Natural Blues” begins with a repudiation of God—no voices in the sky—and ends with doggy-style sex; both are claimed as “natural,” and thus, maybe this is their theme song, if not their anthem. See what I meant earlier about their desperate-but-grinning slob persona? The album closes with “Yer Birthday,” which catalogs the bitch that the period between ages 21 through 25 is, and “Beer,” in which the boys sit around the crib “Indian style,” pass the bottle, badmouth their dry county, refuse to wait on Jesus, and prepare to chase away their nightmares with, well, what else? (No, it’s not the title substance.)
If I have not conveyed it well enough, Natural Child’s balance between deliriously buzzy humor and off-the-cuff smarts, both lyrically and musically, make this album…delightful. That’s right, I said again. Also, it communicates clearly and simply—though not stoopidly—about the trials of, as Charles Bukowski once wrote, “beat[ing] death in life” on meager sustenance. Certainly, 1971 beats the insularity, self-involvement, and preciousness of the sons and daughters of James Taylor, legion enough right now to be called an army.
I’ve gone on too long, but if you’re still not convinced to try 1971 (or any of the band’s other work), two last things: 1) I’m a 49-year-old teetotaler, so stoned humor doesn’t fall too sweetly on my ears. Natural Child’s is not merely stoned humor; in the grand rock and roll tradition, they energize negatives. 2) I ran my own website, The First Church of Holy Rock and Roll, from 1999 to 2004, reviews and rant pouring out of me even though I had a real job that easily consumed 10-12 hours of my day every day. I stopped simply because the amount of music coming out that was compelling me to write just dried up. This band is so good, so fun, so rock and roll, and so don’t give a shit that they’ve not only compelled me to start writing again, but I actually pester them on Twitter to work a little harder to get themselves out there. It’s probably to their credit that they don’t. But here’s hoping that at least they play my town—and yours.