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Music Reviews

Screaming Females - Castle Talk
»Screaming Females
Castle Talk
Don Giovanni
Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross - The Social Network [Original Soundtrack]
»Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross
The Social Network [Original Soundtrack]
The Null Corporation
Deerhunter - Halcyon Digest
Halcyon Digest
No Age - Everything in Between
»No Age
Everything in Between
Sub Pop
Robyn - Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
The Walkmen - Lisbon
»The Walkmen
Fat Possum
Grand Ulena
Gateway to Dignity
Family Vineyard Records

Rating: NR/10 ?

March 13, 2003
Saint Louisans Grand Ulena originate with former Dazzling Killmen bassist Darin Gray, a proud owner of what has to be one of the most daunting post-rock resumes ever, replete with name drops out the wazoo - from Bobby Conn and Jim O'Rourke to Ken Vandermark, Will Oldham, and Loren Mazzacane Connors. In Grand Ulena Gray is flanked by fellow Show-Me-Staters Chris Trull (guitar) and Danny McClain (percussion) who, ironically, are both former boyfriends of two of my former room mates. More appropriate to mention would be the fact that McClain had formerly held down the helter-skelter beat for screamo dress-a-likes Johnny Angel (ex-Unbroken!) and Trull's guitar noodling can be found on a number of releases by Darling Little Jackhammer. While it remains unclear if Grand Ulena will sport matching outfits or mention that members' former bands once played with Cap'n Jazz, one thing is for certain- this trio has their collective shit together.

Like the Midwestern city they fancy themselves as ambassadors of, Grand Ulena are hard to love, easy to hate and ultimately simultaneously frustrating and rewarding while continuously making little sense (much like this review). Like the Gateway City itself- quite possibly the most undignified city in America- Grand Ulena's debut album is full of lustrous potential scattered amidst decay and ruin, diamonds buried in the detritus of a cityscape akin to Dresden circa Valentine's day 1945. It's entertaining to see how obsessed the trio seems to be with Saint Louis, arguably one of the most vapid musical landscapes I've ever experienced, populated by a gaggle of geese running around with their heads cut off, going nowhere. Many of the songs on Gateway to Dignity are named in honor of streets in my former neighborhood and the artwork appropriately features the ratty, neglected brownstones that I know all so well. Grand Ulena excercise music as metaphore- intricate craftsmanship and detailed inlays rot and corrode, beauty collapsing in upon itself as the artificers stand by and watch it all go to pieces, occasionally driving a bulldozer through the front door, leaving only the most stalwart pillars standing.

Gateway to Dignity is experimental in the truest sense of the word - beats, melodies and rhythms are generally isolated, shooting off into the unknown reaches of space, only occasionally turning earthbound and converging in the most sanctimonious of matrimonies. Driving in the car, eating a cheese and onion sandwich, brushing one's teeth- these are the environs in which Grand Ulena are truly baffling, the times when notes scurry about like rats in a grain elevator, mystifying the ear of those weaned on music that, well, makes sense. But given undivided attention- on headphones, perhaps- Gateway to Dignity will ultimately win over the hearts of those strong of stomach. Tracks like "Total Joplin" are hard to deny, the swerving threesome butting heads like Larry, Curly and Moe one moment, coalescing into a furious groove the next.

If Gateway to Dignity has one dominating flaw it is the trio's regression into moments that can best be described as musical hand-grenades, moments the band aptly defines as "repetition of the retarded". Too often the listener is enticed toward a lush bed of burlap only to be slapped in the face, spun around and toppled onto a bed of white-hot nails. Tune in at the seven minute mark of "Crowbar at Crescent and Cricket" and you're likely to swoon. Ten minutes later you're scraping your eyes out with a claw hammer, a grievous situation when beauty is in the eye of the beholder, as it truly is with Gateway to Dignity. As is the case with most progressive music of the hebephrenic persuasion, Grand Ulena are an acquired taste, masters of a chaotic art akin to that of Ruby, the painting elephant. In fact, Grand Ulena are perhaps best described by borrowing the words of Joe Foerner, Ruby's veterinarian - "like a ruptured appendix, magnified by a thousand times". Lets hope Grand Ulena can avoid Ruby's fate- she was put to sleep in November of 1998 after a risky surgery to remove a dead 320-pound fetus from her uterus.

Reviewed by Eric J Herboth
Eric J. Herboth is the founder, publisher and Managing Editor of LAS magazine. He is a magazine editor, freelance writer, bike mechanic, commercial pilot, graphic designer, International Scout enthusiast and giver of the benefit of the doubt. He currently lives in rural central Germany with his two best friends, dog Awahni and cat Scout.

See other reviews by Eric J Herboth



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