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Cheer-Accident - Gumballhead The Cat

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Artist: Cheer-Accident

Album: Gumballhead The Cat

Label: Skin Graft

Review date: Dec. 11, 2003

It is rather uplifting when one comes to the realization that there are purposes to music other than sheer instant gratification. In fact, most people who still think about these things assign a definition to “art” which includes some element above and beyond lapping at the cultural shit bowl. Yes, anyone can be convinced that an ass-kicking is in his own best interests, but who denies that in at least one case it might be deserved? Well, music also needs to kick ass, and in extreme cases convince you to kick your own ass. Now, let’s talk about Cheer-Accident.

Enough has been written about the band’s music. Obvious starting points are Robert Wyatt and Henry Cow/Art Bears mixed with a healthy (read: limited) dose of American post-punk and Chicago independents (anyone remember Gastr Del Sol?), which members of the band were instrumental in defining. This aspect of the band, however, is usually mentioned as a sidebar to their peculiar stage presence and graphically cunning stunts. Never has Fluxus entered the rock underground in such a spirit as during a Cheer-Accident concert. There is one thing which separates this band, in this writer’s humble opinion, from most other bands which attempt to “perform” on stage or through their music: Cheer-Accident doesn’t give a shit about making money. They gave that up a long time ago.

Unlike bands with a gimmick, Cheer-Accident has no stump speech. They do not repeat themselves, nor do they feel any pressure to grant their audience’s wishes. They have an agenda, but there is no compromise towards the whims of the market to render it presentable or palatable. If this sounds like the A&R description of a teenage emo band, listen closer; these are prog dudes with an average age of 40. They have survived the harsh waves of the Chicago music scene (wither went thou Jesus Lizard, Scissor Girls, Flying Luttenbachers?) and now can proudly don the mantle of Old Man of the Sea. This, to put it drolly, is no accident. The band occasionally remarks on their perennial noncommercial potential, but any bitterness has since been replaced with a perspective of liberation towards music and its discontents.

Granted, Cheer-Accident is a trying band, even for its most dedicated fans. Weasel Walter once took their 1998 album Trading Balloons (a 52-minute song released on a CDr) and distilled it to a “rocking version” that clocked in under 20 minutes. Needless to say, the band was not amused. Their newest, Gumballhead The Cat (partly a companion piece to the more formalistic Introducing Lemon, also released on Skingraft in 2003) was recorded while the band was in flux after the departure of their longtime bass player Dylan Posa. On first encounter, it has a decidedly unfinished feel, with most of the songs comprising of a simple melody over intricate polyrhythms repeated for the entire length. However, Cheer-Accident are too perfectionist to let this be a fallback album. Instead, perhaps the best precedent in rock history is Colin Newman’s 1981 effort Provisionally Entitled The Singing Fish; essentially a Wire album without any vocals which confuses many punk fans to this day. The focus on looping instrumentals and minimal changes within melody challenges one to listen further and explore the absences in addition to the discernible in the music. Gumballhead takes small interludes that could have been in earlier Cheer-Accident prog opuses and extends them, fading only at the end of the track directly into another loop. The relative harshness of the recording recalls another genre, however: the dark and hypnotic Jamaican dub of the early to mid 1970s. Listen to Keith Hudson’s Pick A Dub next to this disc, and the reticence becomes clearer – potentiality as musical expression, a latency which is powerful and unheard. Still, these jolly gents had to get silly on at least one track; “Notary Public” sounds similar to a Van Dyke Parks pop gem (in the Discover America Caribbean style, naturally).

Bewildering as it may be, Gumballhead fits into Cheer-Accident’s catalog while expanding their talents. Newcomers should probably begin with the other Skingraft offerings first, but as this album comes neatly housed inside a 7” sized comic book written and drawn by label manager Rob Syers, it is destined to be a collectible in the near future. It is strange how little is known about Cheer-Accident when one leaves the Midwest, as there are no other bands that can actually combine prog, avant-garde, and a pop sensibility (I know, Steely Dan did win that Grammy) and not end up a horrible flaming train wreck. Hopefully enough people have the patience to endure the unique, even though the result may be a sore ass.

P.S. This writer could go into the success rate of bringing new people to a Cheer-Accident concert (around 10% so far), but its better said this way: "There are some things which cannot be learned quickly, and time, which is all we have, must be paid heavily for their acquiring." - Ernest Hemingway

By Kevan Harris

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