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Centipede E'est - Cheeks of Neptune

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Artist: Centipede E'est

Album: Cheeks of Neptune

Label: 100 Legs

Review date: Feb. 16, 2006

Recently caught this documentary on IFC called Z Channel: A Magnificent Obsession, regarding an influential but ill-fated TV network available only in Los Angeles throughout the late '70s and early '80s. This was a network which acquired avant-garde, foreign and otherwise interesting films from all over the world, and aired them, unedited, often letterboxed in a time when preserving a film’s aspect ratio for TV viewing was unheard of. It’s the rumored source of several otherwise unavailable video bootlegs, since these now impossible-to-find movies were being broadcast every month. People taped them with their state-of-the-art, top-loading VCRs. Generations of filmmakers lucky enough to live in the Hollywood Hills, or be attending UCLA at the time, were given the chance to see a non-stop, curated film festival from their own homes every day of the week. The same thing cannot happen today.

Said director Alexander Payne on this happening in the documentary, “You never know when you’re living in a golden age.” Hearing that phrase, for some reason, resonated deeply within me. It made me think of the town I come from (Pittsburgh, PA, home of Centipede E’est), and the long line of bands I saw growing up; they were created in a place fueled by inventive free-form college radio and dozens of DIY and impromptu music venues but largely blocked off from the influence of the outside world. Bands came up on their own, did their thing, then burned out. Members recycled their talents into new projects which were equally engrossing. It was one of the most inspiring and alternately enervating places for a young sponge like myself to grow up and soak in all the music.

Upon my last few visits back home, the talk was all on Centipede E’est. This is the new band that everybody there loves, a collective including former members of the Karl Hendricks Trio, Dirty Faces, Johnsons Big Band, Shopping, and Boombox, and current members of Midnite Snake and Pay Toilets. A curious mix there, from earnest singer-songwriter outfits to swampy horn-saddled Dexy’s worship to chaos-enabled no wave destruction units. Get these folks together and interesting things can happen. For starters, forming a rock band built around gut-thumping percussive swing and world-beat rhythmic cadences, married in such a way that you wouldn’t want to hear them any other way. Serpentine twin-lead guitars that hold down the script with nimble runs and stray notes in equal but not overbearing nature. Dueling vocalists rushing to grab the crown. Overall, a very exciting place to be.

At first, Cheeks of Neptune, the band’s debut, is most easily likened to specifics. There’s a good bit of the atmosphere of a Les Savy Fav record in here, just in terms of the looseness of cadence, the boastful lyrics (“We eat the harvest! We shit grape vines!” stands out from opener “Zion is Cyan”), and the heat of the recording atmosphere (the album was made in guitarist Nicholas Fallwell’s hometown of Paint Rock, Alabama, in the family barn). Also evident are early Flaming Lips (Telepathic Surgery particularly comes to mind in the jagged pop melodies), and Polvo’s tendencies to wrap a guitar line around on itself and tie it intricately at its end, out of time.

Where these guys flip the script is within the rhythms, inspired by the costume Creole stonk of Dr. John’s Gris-Gris, the furious machinations of Captain Beefheart and the Magic Band, the wild downtown skronk of Mofungo, and the polyphony of Afrobeat in equal measure. Running these influences together, repeat listens tie the songs into a tangled knot of strings and sentiment. Cheeks of Neptune offers up a Gordian set of unsteady, momentous indie rock, from the straight-ahead SST rage of “Blue Streak” to the rumpshake of “Mogadon Dance Hall,” to the stoic burn of penultimate track “Sinking Boats,” the standout track here. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a modern rock rhythm section as intricate and keyed in as drummer Sam Pace and bassist Caulen Kress, nor will you find a hype man as animated as singer/guitarist James Lingo.

Centipede E’est is out there making golden-age music for a Bronze Age scene, where the inspired, bored, and wealthy immigrate to bigger cities to get decadent. Pittsburgh’s still got these guys and it's time to share.

By Doug Mosurock

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