Not to make light of a serious mental illness, but listening to Cam Cougar, the third album from Burlington experimental outfit Lawrence Welks & Our Bear to Cross , is like suffering a compulsion to cut oneself — which may, in fact, be the end result for anyone who dares prolonged exposure to the disc. Its effect is like frostbite, but instead of merely freezing your skin, this album peels it off as one might open a sardine can. A rusty sardine can. Cutting-edge, indeed.
Apologists will champion the band’s supposed deconstruction of pop archetypes; that this pop pastiche drenched in the mayhem of industrial grime ultimately leaves the great contrivances of commercial music exposed like a raw nerve.
Just as the music LW&OB2X targets and tortures is bound (and maybe gagged) by convention, so too are their own ventures formulaic: trite lyricism, melodramatic melody, a squirm-inducing level of feedback and distortion. In truth, you could run almost any schmaltzy pop artist — Celine Dion, say — through blown speakers and achieve similar results.
Then again, you could play a Celine Dion album au naturel and clear a room such as Radio Bean as quickly, if that’s your intent. And for LW, it just might be. Writes Burlington-based “other music” maven A Snake in the Garden, in a quote prominently featured on the flashing, epileptic nightmare that is LW’s MySpace page, “Their second show was almost transcendent … I was very drunk and high, but amazing nonetheless … Bean-clearer. Amazing.”
So, “easy listening” it ain’t. But if music is intentionally made obnoxious to the point of being unlistenable, shouldn’t it make some artistic statement beyond painful irony? On Cam Cougar, such statements are unclear, if they exist at all.
Amid the mordant madness, the real irony is that beneath the album’s exterior beats the bleeding heart of a maudlin romantic. Stripped of their grotesque machinations, these songs would be eerie approximations of the tunes they pulverize. And that, presumably, is the point. If there is any brilliance to be found within this sad satire, it is hidden here, deeply.
But there is precious little artistic value in random violence. And that is essentially what the guileless Cam Cougar amounts to, assaulting the listener with berserk fury. It is the musical equivalent of a drunken bar brawl: unhinged, unsophisticated and vile.
If you dare, catch Lawrence Welks & Our Bear to Cross this Thursday at The Monkey House with Caring Babies, tooth ache. and Nose Bleed Island.