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The Baptist Generals - No Silver/No Gold

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Artist: The Baptist Generals

Album: No Silver/No Gold

Label: Sub Pop

Review date: Apr. 8, 2003

Screaming In The Basement

Texas has had something of a bad rap lately, as might be expected, given its dubious distinction as the home of George W. Bush and a host of mediocre sports teams. It’s important, however, to remember that Texas has made a rich contribution to our national culture, lending a uniquely skewed perspective on American life. After all, Rushmore and Royal Tenenbaums director Wes Anderson hails from Texas, as does Ross Perot, who at least made politics a little more weird. Musically, Texas has produced the Butthole Surfers, Sixteen Deluxe, and the Thirteenth Floor Elevators, all purveyors of wonderful, acid-soaked noise that reflects the strange contradictions of living in a strange, contradicted place. Texas is big, desolate, beautiful, horrible, and completely American, a place where they love football and guns without irony, a place that Modernist sculptor Donald Judd decided would be perfect to set up an artists’ colony. At the very least, Texas isn’t boring.

In 1992, when the Dallas Cowboys won the Super Bowl for the first time in a decade, the city decided to have a parade in the team’s honor. Midway through the celebration, a full-blown race riot erupted, scarring the city’s downtown with the worst racial violence since the L.A. riots. This kind of contradiction, between joy and self-destruction, is a large part of the music of the Baptist Generals, a band from Denton. Singer/songwriter Chris Flemmons records in his garage, and sings from his gut, creating music that functions as a Southern counterpart to the Midwestern malaise of Guided by Voices. GBV is an obvious influence on the Generals, but there are some different elements at work here, as well as some different demons. Pollard has always been openly under the sway of alcohol; Flemmons hints at a darker, more fundamental anger seething beneath the surface.

On the album’s first track, “Ay Distress”, Flemmons sings almost a capella, with only a faintly-strummed acoustic guitar as accompaniment. He possesses a strong voice, and when he really sings out, its intensity is captivating. At the end of the song, a ringing phone interrupts the recording, and Flemmons goes on a rampage, screaming “Fuck!” and audibly overturning equipment. It’s hard to know why he would respond this way, and it’s also questionable to put it on the record, but the other people in the studio are clearly upset, and it seems that Flemmons must be something of a volatile personality. This anger is paired with some disarmingly beautiful songs, which range between propulsive pop and slower dirges. Alcohol is a recurrent theme on the record, as are the familiar ideas of regret, self-loathing, and remorse. Due to the strength of Flemmons’ voice, his songs are always listenable, but it’s the lighter numbers which are more successful, working in contrast between the singer’s intense rasp and the darting, slinky qualities of the melodies. Flemmons almost always plays an acoustic guitar, and he’s developed a unique, percussive style to his playing that often locks in with the drums, creating a unified, solid sound that is remarkably expressive given its simplicity.

For aficionados of low-fi rock, there are some real gems on the album, particularly “500 League Reunion March”, which is as catchy as anything put out by GBV. If there is a problem here, it’s the GBV comparisons, which are, honestly, difficult to entirely forget during the album’s course. There’s some real talent at work on No Silver/No Gold, though, and it’s a largely satisfying album, but to truly succeed, the Generals need to drag themselves out from under Pollard’s considerable shadow. Texas deserves its own low-fi chronicler of drunk desperation, and if given enough time and beer, Flemmons could be that man.

By Jason Dungan

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