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The Red Crayola - Soldier-Talk

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Artist: The Red Crayola

Album: Soldier-Talk

Label: Drag City

Review date: Apr. 10, 2007

By 1979, after a decade of sporadic recordings that covered freeform freakouts, psychedelic non-sequiturs and bone-dry country rock, The Red Crayola’s Mayo Thompson had fled to London with members of the American Art & Language collective, ostensibly to set up a new faction of the movement. Searching for a (sub)cultural climate that would take to the critical rigour of his songwriting and discursive practice, Thompson lighted on the post-punk crucible: the Rough Trade milieu. Soldier-Talk was the first album Thompson made from inside of this peculiarly thorough, interpersonally brittle environment, and its extended line-up features Lora Logic and all of the members of Pere Ubu, the group Thompson would eventually join in their first incarnation’s twilight years.

When writing about The Red Crayola, it’s easy (and admittedly, somewhat pleasurable) to get caught up in the thorniness of Thompson’s word-games, references and sly commentaries. Every album contains an internal dialogue, a set of ideas that Thompson is working through, and they’re far from shrouded. He’s often an admirably concise writer, given to slogans or proclamations that repeatedly undercut their very existence. But Soldier-Talk features the most hard-rocking Red Crayola line-up to exist, at least until the 1990s incarnation with Chicago alumni like Tom Watson and John McEntire.

Structurally, Thompson’s songs feel less dense than on the preceding Corrected Slogans, due to the absence of Art & Language’s textual interference. The songs themselves are sometimes still prickly, and Thompson’s phrasing often feels like an extension of some weird stream-of-consciousness logic, tracing themes with stubby one-note guitar melodies or squeaking saxophone. Other voices make themselves heard, particularly David Thomas’s braying whinny, but the most ‘vocal’ presence is, surprisingly, a guitar tone that has such a brutal treble edge, it’s like a blade slicing straight through flesh.

Unlike some of The Red Crayola’s denser, more opaque entries, Soldier-Talk is easy to grasp on the surface, though it still contains its fair share of aporias. Toward the end of “Letter-Bomb,” Thompson repeats the line “a letter-bomb is an apt expression,” which is heavy wisdom, but Soldier-Talk suggests the pop song can be the perfect, seductive vehicle of de(con)struction from within.

By Jon Dale

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