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Paraquat Earth Band - If You Ain't With Us You're Against Us

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Artist: Paraquat Earth Band

Album: If You Ain't With Us You're Against Us

Label: Flipped Out

Review date: Oct. 15, 2003

The tendency of our cultural despotism to write off anything that occurs in “flyover country” has contributed to two directions in underground music. One, when bands are discovered in this ethereal hay, they are perceived as somehow closer to an American fabric than anything on the coastal borders of our nation (what the peons deem “the blue states”). Second, the general lack of attention by the culture industries ingrained the D.I.Y. ethos into musicians far more than any intent on their part to eschew commercial opportunities. As a result, music bleeds and bubbles in areas of the country which never surface for the A&R reps that are on their way from CMJ to SXSW. But it’s there; to find it takes a little legwork and preferably some brass ones.

Originally released in 1996 on vinyl, the title of Paraquat Earth Band’s only release (thus far – they broke up thereafter but recently re-formed) If You Ain’t With Us You’re Against Us, seems rather prescient in our current crisis laden and ham-fisted times. Perhaps Albany, New York is a harbinger of things to come, or maybe it’s a warning to us all. Manichean tendencies are usually the currency of our national discourse, but never more than the present. It is high time, therefore, that Flipped Out Records has decided to reissue this album (as well as several other vinyl-only titles from its 16-year existence) onto CD. PEB’s music reminds this writer of The Deer Hunter – celebratory, violent, ambiguous, and yes, there’s a gun somewhere and it might be loaded.

Paraquat Earth Band consists of Ziamaluch (owner and proprietor of Flipped Out Records and Mail Order), Gay Tastee on high and low guitars (respectively), and Blaktinson Cookie on some mean drums. According to Ziamaluch, the label is thought of “as a ‘friends and family’ kind of thing, either projects of my own or a killer record by a good friend.” As far as one can tell, Flipped Out has dedicated itself to partially documenting Albany’s contributions to underground music. While limited in reach, the records are fine testimonies to how misunderstood certain areas of this country are, specifically the supposed “provincialism” of suburban ratholes like upstate NY. PEB proves that there are enough people in any part of this God-infested country that can and do make new and interesting music, even if it takes seven years for the rest of us to hear about it.

Certain bands unfortunately feel the need to exploit their backgrounds or create new ones to harness a faux Americana (and in the process tie in seamlessly with our uber-nationalist obsessions). Why not bust the red state myth wide open instead? The record starts off with two raging whisky-soaked numbers which recall the best of 1980s American underground, sort of like Evol-era Sonic Youth or Meat Puppets smashing into a Pussy Galore light post. Vocals are cackled out of a barn drenched in feedback and sawdust (the few liner notes reveal it was “recorded at The Shithouse & The Church of God” – so it may have been a barn, or more likely a slaughterhouse). Then it leaps into “Freeman’s Blues,” an 11-minute salvo calling the Sun City Girls out as fellow travelers. Two hard-panned guitars twist and turn in psychedelic freaknik that leaves no room for extra breathing. However, a caveat to all scarf and handkerchief “psych” fans: This music will put out your mellow candle. In the midst of high octane improv, Tastee and Ziamaluch somehow keep it together with melodic swirls and guttural plunges. Are they riffs? Are they licks? Let it be known at maximum volume the listener will probably forget both her wallet AND cellphone in the back seat (they’re not going to help you anyway).

The bewilderment reaches new heights with several more long-form improvisations interspersed with shorter polemics to life in the shadow of post-industrial easy living. Songs such as “Cold Fusion” and “Shot to Shit” get closer to a sense of the daily grind than any teen-angst rock could ever do (and this was during Clintonomics, remember!). Throughout all the pandemonium, Paraquat Earth Band brings the paradox of Middle American music to a resolution. Amazing music has been made, servile to no ephemeral trend, and completely independently. Isn’t that what we’ve all been waiting for?

P.S. A note on why a musician in the outsider/noise/free folk areas would use a nom de plume. It is in the interest of evading the pigeonholes assigned to smaller music scenes described above and creating meaning without previous trappings that so many great musicians drop their Christian handle. It also assures a level of separation between art production and life that is the opposite of celebrity.

By Kevan Harris

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