self released, DD album, 42m 18s
Absurdity in the arts is usually associated with comedy and satire; it is certainly true that much humour is absurdist in character, and that there is something about an incongruity that seems to tickle us. The mechanics of humour are doubtless complex, and they are not a topic I have spent much time thinking about, so I won’t dwell on the reasons for this, but I will say that there seems to me to be rather more to it than that. The absurd can be a route to more than just a laugh, and this is a point that has been exploited in a number of artistic movements historically, Dada and Surrealism for example (and Freud had a thing or two to say about the incongruous juxtaposition). Every Drop Disorganized most certainly is funny, sometimes because of the satirical content of the songs it collects, but sometimes just because the sounds that make it up seem so willfully misshapen and ill-matched; it’s also entirely possible that this humorous element represents the principal intention behind The Chewers’ artistic practice. However, it also has a lot to say, and the reason absurdity has been a popular trope through pretty much the entire recorded history of creative endeavour, has had as much to do with its value as a source of profound insights and its capacity for speaking unspeakable truths as it does with its ability to elicit an ephemeral giggle. Satire pokes holes in specific targets; absurdism pokes holes in everything, pointing out the weakness of the premises on which our fundamental assumptions are founded. This is probably why society has been so quick to lump it in with comedy; if we are careful to regard it as no more than a trivial entertainment then there is no danger we will actually hear what it’s saying to us. But comedy is becoming harder to define in a way that precludes its hosting political discourse, and although the humour is ever-present, some of the sounds on this record are simply too bizarre to be classed as superficial entertainment. It is hard to ignore the subversive power of a release like Every Drop Disorganized.
Most popular music addresses and represents bodies rather than minds; it moves in ways that evoke specific forms of physical movement. Usually it speaks to an ideal, to the fluid, elegant, sexy dancers of our fantasies, to heroic, masterful rock warriors, mighty-thewed and flowing-haired, or to the stone-cold urban street boss; The Chewers address themselves more to the awkwardness and uncertainty of real people, with rhythms that mimic the gestures of rock but stumble along like the slightly-overweight and under-rested on their way to work after a disturbed night on a cheap mattress. The songs on this album are mostly constructed from the conventional materials of rock music, which is to say, bass, guitar and drums channelled into an insistent thrusting, but there is rarely a point at which anyone could listen for more than two seconds without noticing something odd about the whole malarkey. There’s the aforementioned rhythmic wonkiness, but there is also a marked tendency for the melodic content to land in places so narrowly removed from what sounds ‘correct’ that is almost a challenge, to hear the music as either incompetent, or trivially humorous. In my view, it is neither.
Sure, it’s funny, downright daft most of the time, with a wide range of semi-effectual shouts, lounge-whimsy, goofy assertions, and yes, deliberate satire (‘Savior Pill’ and ‘Pancakes (4 Stack)’ offering particularly fine examples of this last category). But the question it asks of the listener, repeatedly and continuously, is this: ‘how seriously do you take yourself?’ I don’t mean that it addresses itself exclusively to the cool, to listeners equipped with the requisite degree of irony to recognise its hipness; in fact, that sort of self-conscious erudition will only scratch the surface of this music, the part of it that is uncomplicatedly comedic in character. What I mean is that it subverts dogma; to accept this music on its own terms it is necessary to be willing to question everything you think you know about music. If you’ve already made up your mind, if you are overly attached to any rigid suppositions regarding music, and particularly its aesthetics, you will find this album to be a slippery fish, hard to grasp but easy to dismiss. The same can be said for many less overtly playful utterances of the avant-garde, and free jazz, for example, offered a similar challenge to the aesthetic conventions of the 1950s. Most such essays in incongruity retain a rather more essentialist notion of artistic value, however: the valorisation of the artist as romantic hero. Ornette Coleman carries some of the same baggage as Beethoven, or at least what was made of him; The Chewers dare to suggest that sounds should be attended for their aural materiality and associative meanings, not because the presence of genius imbues them with value.
So obviously, I spend my time listening to Every Drop Disorganized stroking my beard and nodding sagely in recognition of its succession of profundities. Occasionally it prompts me to cross the room and look up an obscure reference in a dusty tome of post-structuralist critical theory, or to enter an intellectual reverie so complete that I forget to eat for several days. Yeah, right; like fuck it does. It’s a lot of fun, and I listen to it with a smile on my face, occasionally laughing aloud (even after a lot of repeat listening); but while I certainly won’t be picking any of these tunes for the dancefloor, I’m listening to it as music just as much as I’m listening to it as satire. The Chewers have released a recording that requires an open mind to enjoy, but it’s only the same openness of mind that is required to enjoy any music on its own terms; there’s creativity and intelligence in every moment of this album, even at its most random and bizarre, and its most serious points are directed via that most subversive of channels, laughter.