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EZ T - Goodbye Little Doll

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Artist: EZ T

Album: Goodbye Little Doll

Label: Monitor

Review date: Jan. 9, 2004

Consider the following lines: “I’d like to buy some things for the limo / for the stench of Chivas Regal and puke / the streets of Quito run to the Rio where the moon people come out with rifles.” These three lines fail to make sense only because the first two lines make perfect sense; the juxtaposition throws me, as nothing could possibly connect these ideas, nor indeed, make it possible for that last line to make sense in its own right. I’m confused since the whole thing comes out as fairly conversational – deranged conversation, to be sure, but conversation nonetheless. When I remembered that these lines came in the midst of a verse that began with “I realized Nixon lied to the nation,” I stopped trying to make heads or tails of them. Whether these were lowbrow Zen koans, a successful homage to Faulkner’s stream-of-consciousness prose attempts to replicate his thoughts while drunk, or something else entirely, I still don’t know.

Therein lies the genius of the enterprise, I suspect. EZ T’s debut album, Goodbye Little Doll, much like the song from which those lines are drawn – “Central Control” – carries on the tradition of the great American crank in album form. Poetic forms of personal dysfunction abound; the title track even depicts the crank’s most haunting image – “throwing nickels at the sunset to buy more time.” Yes, few totally futile persuasive actions can have the significance of a totally futile persuasive action directed at the sun. By the time the album’s penultimate track, “Margaret-99 Mother of 64th Street,” transitions from “I am skating down the chemical river” to “up in the mountains, the people eat each other,” (which actually kind of makes sense, when you stop to think about it) it’s all just par for the course.

Unsurprisingly, given the Byzantine construction of the lyrics, EZ T comes to us from the Palace music collective: one Oldham brother (Paul) mixed the album and played bass; another Oldham brother (Will) receives thanks in the liner notes; and two members of third Oldham brother Ned’s band the Anomoanon (guitar player Aram Stith and drummer Richard Schuler) contributed to the album. EZ T is not an Oldham project, however, but is rather the vehicle for Colin Gagon, who wrote each of the album’s nine songs. Musically, Gagon favors a minimalist variant of the Southern rock that everyone seems so anxious to revive; he likes to build songs out of two or three minor chords, never launches into guitar solos, and only avoids the “folk” and “blues rock” labels by using distortion and adding in piano and organ. Thankfully he replaces the bombast that usually accompanies Southern rock with a healthy dose of self-effacement. Those worried about the aggressive loser culture embodied by any group labeled as a bar band can rest assured that there is more cogitating than usual going on here, and that each use of the word “darlin’” was self-conscious. EZ T plays Americana – and provides a drinking soundtrack – that one can also puzzle over at one’s leisure.

Two especially dark songs might be good in this regard – an adaptation of the blue’s standard “Motherless Children Have a Hard Time” called “Fingerless Children,” which mixes Gagon’s litany of misery with Sarabeth Tucek’s one-line backup vocals, and “I Fell Down,” a dirge about drinking away late-evening loneliness that broke my heart with its dirge-like beat and Gagon and Tucek’s fleeting vocal interplay. It manages to invest its opening lines – “last night I fell down at the ugly blue bar / some lady stood me up and said, ‘Boy, do you know where you are?’” – with a dignity those words have seldom had.

By Tom Zimpleman

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