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John Wilkes Booze - Telescopic Eyes Glance the Future Sick

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Artist: John Wilkes Booze

Album: Telescopic Eyes Glance the Future Sick

Label: Kill Rock Stars

Review date: Oct. 6, 2005

John Wilkes Booze's first album, Five Pillars of Soul, was kind of like an inspired book report. Some 20,000 words of liner notes spent on cultural revolutionaries Melvin Van Peebles, Tania Hearst, Marc Bolan, Albert Ayler and Yoko Ono bled too literally into the record itself, leaving one wondering which document came first. Both were faithfully stirring nonetheless, and if the band’s grooves and singer Seth Mahern’s phrases were more taken than received, it was still a revolutionary idea for 2004.

Oft described as brainy garage rock (or something like that), the Booze certainly cop the correct moves and lingo to be roped in with revivalists. Mahern has a genuine, high-pitched blues croak to top off what, at its heart, is a hard-working live band. The bass rhythm is unrelenting throughout, and yeoman guitar mentality coalesces with a circular drumming style, random sax and electronic accents to throw kinks into a rough-hewn formula. But the subject matter is the breaking point, and in this, John Wilkes Booze is left as an indie-rock equivalent of a character from Richard Linklater’s Slacker as opposed to the cultural avant-garde icons they dedicate themselves to.

JWB re-emerges with Telescopic Eyes Glance the Future Sick, an album dotted with unsettling pleasures. It has got some honest-to-goodness hooks and chunky riffs, but it’s in tracks like the opening, sexually-charged “Word of Mark/The Rattler,” or the 13th Floor Elevators-like drug stomp “Heliocentric Views pt. 2” that the album is propelled to the heights it fancies. And with that endorsement out of the way, there are politically and emotionally charged words being thrown about on Telescopic Eyes that should be accounted for. Some of the characters that turn up in Mahern’s rants are tasty stories for certain, but disreputable in some (if not most) circles.

Trouble begins with the track “Bernadine,” the definitive “single” and an ode to former Weather Underground head Bernadine Dohrm, famous for plotting to blow up the Pentagon and announcing to a crowd of followers: "Dig it. First they killed those pigs, then they ate dinner in the same room with them. They even shoved a fork into the victim’s stomach! Wild!” This was a reference to the Manson Family, who JWB conjure in two different songs, “Barker Ranch Blues” and a cover of Manson’s own “Always is Always Forever,” a creep-out number formerly sung by Manson Family women with their babies crying in the background. The less sinister but still controversial Kwame Nkrumah and Malcom X, are mentioned as well, lending the band the same cloud of intrigue that covered late-’60s and early-’70s far-left revolutionaries. Though never reaching so far as to endorse a return to violent activism, these odes pose questions of intent that are never fully answered.

By Michael Tapscott

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Five Pillars of Soul

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