Wednesday, April 20, 2011

The Wonderfully Weird Uncle Larry

If Les Claypool played the electric guitar, his name would be Billy Judge Baldus, and his band would be Uncle Larry.

Hailing from our own sweet well water, Milwaukee's Uncle Larry backhands your senses and boxes your ears with their unique brand of alternative rock and roll.  Yes, "alternative rock" is an over used label - so much in fact that anything that is "regular rock" (and what is that now?) would actually be alternative - in theory.  Right?  Uncle Larry, however, is alternative by the original definition intended: a hodgepodge of musical genres frankenstein monstered together to form an entity all its own.  Just look at those crazy snake heads and light bulbs on the album cover there - that's crazy shit, and does not belie the album's content in the least.  What Baldus is singing about on each track is as much your guess as mine - and I've read the lyrics to each song again and again (you really kind of have to, he sings 'em real quick like sometimes).  Retracting my original stylistic comparison to Primus, I'll go the appropriately abstract route and describe it as this instead: pretend the Brothers Quay formed a rock a band, and wrote lyrics parallel to the kind of films they produce.  You get it now? That's the gigantic question mark hovering above whatever the hell Uncle Larry's songs are about.  Considering the band got their name off of a homemade t-shirt they found in a dumpster, the composition of the songs seems a logical and entirely natural progression, I suppose.

Says Baldus: "I guess I was into dumpster diving back then... free thrifting!  I remember finding the t-shirt and wearing it around, and a guy walked past me once and asked if Uncle Larry was the name of a band.  I said no at the time, but then realized that yes, Uncle Larry would be a band..."

Just as odd, serendipitous coincidence made the band, even more makes up their song roster.  Take the album's stand out title track "The Life And Times of Frederick Caesar", a jolting little number that speeds at you like a squid freight train made of bat skin organics (ooh - I just thought of Captain Beefheart, another good comparison to Larry's off the wall lyricism): "He lived deep down beneath the city streets on a bunk bed made of wood/ an alligator for a pet and milk crate filled with ballpoint pens..."  You'll hurt yourself trying to get your head around that, and hurt yourself even more trying to scour the internet for a bio of any such late, great Frederick Caesar persons.  "Frederick Caesar is a name I made up," admits Baldus, "but I started to think what if he was a real person, and what if he was a really bad person?  I did some research and discovered that there was a real Frederick Caesar.  And he wasn't a bad person at all! He was a Cricket player in India in the mid 1800's... and he was the best!"  

If weird mythology and post modern, nonsensical lyrics aren't your cup of nectar, fear not - Uncle Larry boasts unarguably talented personell to appease your discerning tastes.  Drummer Garrick Malachi Karpinski is particularly deserving of notable mention.  He's as precise and intuitive as any you've ever heard, and his often lightning quick, but failsafe percussive method fills perfectly where needed and holds steady where required.  Add that to Shane Frederick Wagner's smooth and rubbery basslines, and top it off with Baldus' guitar squealing, zapping and wrapping its lucid tentacles around the whole composition like a mad octo-pig, and you've got a solid punch in the face on each and every song this band belts out.  It's like The Pixies meets They Might Be Giants, meets The Residents, ala surf rock... sorta.  I could make crazy comparisons all day, but they all only do half justice to pinpointing exactly how unique of a band Uncle Larry really is.

So one wonders - how does such a crazily conceptualized ensemble come together? Billy Judge offers us a very simple explanation: "We came together when my art school friend got his guitar back from his brother-in-law."

Fair enough.  If you don't have a crazy Uncle Larry in your family already, you might want to consider adopting this one.  

1 comment:

  1. I love Uncle Larry! Great descriptions, I feel faint after reading this.