Indian Jewelry - "Temporary Famine Ship" (Free Gold!)
For a band that seems pretty averse to being one in the traditional sense, Indian Jewelry appear to have the tough part down almost by accident. The Houston collective have made a record, Free Gold!, that works incredibly well as an uppercase Album, as in the kind that you listen to from beginning to end, and which makes greater sense as a whole than as individual parts. And it does so precisely because of Indian Jewelry’s oafish eccentricity, boasting not only a lineup that’s nearly cult-deep, but a heady pagan sound forged out of unrelenting drum machines, wilting melodies and psych guitar that makes all the right mistakes.
The band's closest contemporaries are Excepter. Like them, their music is deliberately primitive, partially improvised, menacing and boring and inventive in equal measure. But even as Free Gold! invites a broader audience with the solid hooks on “Bird Is Broke (Won’t Sing)” and “Temporary Famine Ship,” Indian Jewelry’s latest move harks back to certain ’90s post-rock acts as much as it accommodates itself to a psych common ground, shared with bands like Wooden Shjips.
Less post-rock than math rock, and more perverse than either, we’re talking the bands that lacked the Jesus Lizard's visceral whomp and Tortoise's mutated cosmopolitanism, worrying the seam between total collapse and vapid technique. U.S. Maple and Ian Williams' other old band, Storm and Stress, are relative footnotes, but these Chicago bands carved out a niche similar to the one Indian Jewelry nails on this record: gauche, gestural rock. Listening to Long Hair in Three Stages’ "Letter to ZZ Top, " a track that sums up U.S. Maple's career pretty decently 10 years on, what strikes me is not just how wrong it feels, but how precise and deliberate the band is about screwing with butt-rock's DNA. Indian Jewelry lacks that sense of precision (the tension between the musicians' fuzzy sense of timing and Erika Thrasher’s unexpectedly visceral drum machine comes to the fore on “Too Much Honky Tonking,” but is one of the album’s best qualities), but they share that band's basic tendency to avoid nostalgia-rock by building their songs out of small, inept movements and big, overemphatic gestures.
Beneath the laser synths and dust-clearing thump of "Temporary Famine Ship," Tex Kerschen and Brandon Davidson’s guitars are busy hitting every other wrong note on the way up the bridge. It makes sense without referring to anything, but also has a humorous, physical quality that’s somehow capable of inspiring paranoia, pathos and release. Mistakists at heart, Indian Jewelry have made one of the most interesting releases of the year.