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Thinking Fellers Union Local 282 - Mother Of All Saints CD (album) cover

MOTHER OF ALL SAINTS

Thinking Fellers Union Local 282

 

RIO/Avant-Prog

4.05 | 3 ratings

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HolyMoly
Special Collaborator
RIO/Avant/Zeuhl and Canterbury Teams
4 stars This utterly unique band from San Francisco put out a nice collection of albums in the 1990s, forming a strange collision of Sonic Youth guitar experimentation, The Residents' affinity for weird sounds and voices, and the gnarly multi-guitar counterpoint of Captain Beefheart's Magic Band. The band sports a three-guitar front line, any one of whom could pick up a mandolin, banjo, trumpet, kazoo, what have you, at any time. Each of the five band members contributes significantly to the writing and singing, though guitarists Brian Hageman and Mark Davies seem to take the lead vocal the majority of the time.

This is their fourth full-length album, and this is the band at their peak, or close to it. Over the course of their career as a band, they honed a concept that I will call Fellers' Law of Hook Dynamics: "Anything can be a hook if you repeat it enough times." This is similar to the Trout Mask Replica aesthetic, but the Thinking Fellers turn these little noise licks and atonal soundbites into bona-fide post-punk rock songs that are unique, memorable, and yes, pretty rockin' too.

This is probably the band's most sprawling, messy album, the most "damaged" and "out there" they ever got. As a result, as stunning as this album is, I cannot award it five stars because the sprawling nature of it does drag it down just a little bit. HOWEVER, the first 40 or so minutes of the album (tracks 1-12) undeniably contains the best sequence of songs this band ever wrote. "Gentleman's Lament" has the rollicking forward momentum of an avalanche of whirring guitars and drums, complemented by some very melodic, almost manic vocals. "Catcher" offers the same brisk tempo to a darker song. "Hornet's Heart" has a great vocal hook and a woozy vocal, with a pounding rhythm. "Star Trek" is an aggressive riffing instrumental with odd meters. "Hive" is essentially a ballad, with a quiet echoey atmosphere, chiming guitars, and a lovely vocal about bees by Mark Davies. "Tell Me" is a favorite of mine, beginning fairly normally, but erupting unexpectedly into a middle section of pure noise, then into a furious rifferama at the end. This section of the album closes with "Infection", a late-night fuzzy drone number with quietly chugging acoustic guitar and buzzing violin, which eventually fades away, feeling like the conclusion to the best Velvet Underground album that never was......

But you're not off the hook yet. What follows is what is commonly known among fans as "Feller Filler". Feller Filler occurs on each of their albums, usually short little interludes taken from lo-fi rehearsal jams. Fans are pretty unanimous in the opinion that these little pieces are by no means their best works, but they do seem to give their albums their unique character, and they give the listener a glimpse into the creative process - the trial and error that eventually results in the wonderful fully developed pieces. On a typical album, there will be a few of these numbers scattered across the album. On this album, there are about 5 relatively lengthy ones right in a row, taking up about 15 minutes. This effectively takes the album abruptly out of avant-rock bliss and straight into an alternate universe of sinister noise, like a long unused jam from the Trout Mask Replica sessions or something.

The album concludes with a rather quiet, cerebral group of songs that maintain the random, focus-less mood of the prior section, but with smoother pieces. "Raymond H", the closest thing to an classic prog number on the album, sits uneasily among this group, with prominent banjo giving it a Camper Van Beethoven-in-a-prog-mood kind of sound. The other pieces, like "Cistern", "1" Tall", and "El Cerrito" are all brooding, ominous, and just a bit confused.

"Mother of All Saints" is a "trip" record, a strange linear trip with two sudden changes in trajectory. It's a long album, and it's long forays into weirdness rob it just a wee bit of its overall consistency, but in the end this album undeniably ranks up there with their best, in a catalog that has very few low spots.

HolyMoly | 4/5 |

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