Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Munly & the Lupercalians, Petr & the Wulf (2010)

If you listen to Munly's splendidly fractured new album with no context whatsoever, it will be totally impenetrable to you. If you are familiar with Prokofiev's Peter and the Wolf, it will be slightly less so. And if you read this blog post by the man hisself, less still.

Regardless of how much you prepare, however, there is still going to be a certain amount of inexplicability to it, and that's all to the good.

The album consists of eight songs from eight different perspectives: a "scarewulf" (like a scarecrow for wolves), Petr (all spelling idiosyncrasies Munly's own), his Grandfater, the bird, the cat, the duk, the three hunters, and of course the wulf himself.

However--this probably goes without saying--you would not even remotely be able to extrapolate these characters' inner lives as imagined on this album from Prokofiev. Munly quite deliberately rips out the story's innards, to the point where the characters themselves--deconstructed beyond all forbearance--collapse into a maelstrom of half-forgotten legend and atavistic, unconscious urges (it's actually quite postmodern). How is one possibly to interpret the duk's perverse desire to be eaten by the wulf as anything but a longed-for return to the womb? The cat's impossible desire to be the wulf as aught but a mixture of thwarted libidinal urges and an inner conflict between civilization and savagery? And let us forget not the Wulf himself, of course, onto whom is heaped all of humanity's blind, unreasoning rage and fear.

The album's centerpiece, "Three Wise Hunters," is its best song and--probably not coincidentally--its most abstruse. The hunters--each of whom gets his (or her? Is the last one actually a woman, or is it just the singer?) own verse--are presented as sort of elemental Promethean figures, representing heaven, ocean, and hell, and offering metaphysical gifts appropriate to their stations that seen intended to protect humanity from the nameless angst that bedevils it ("I offer you the fat and the oil of the pickerel fish; I will flenser your fear off that congealed on yourselves; I'll take your fear and rub you with unguent; in mouths my baleens will hold your fear"). Of course, this primal terror is what the wulf represents (rightly or wrongly), so it's only fitting that it's what the hunters would be combatting.

This mythologizing may also be meant to emphasize the "Lupercalian" aspect of this project, Lupercalia of course being an ancient pagan celebration. Additionally, this may or may not have something to do with why the first hunter is inexplicably named "Marcus Aurelius," though if the historical Aurelius had some special connection to Lupercalia, I don't know what it is (the other two are named "Lucius" and "Jonas Groan"--your guess is as good as or better than mine). The song itself is great, especially Jonas's verse, which is sung by--I think--the same Rebecca Vera who previously did the female section of "Goose Walking Over My Grave" from Munly & the Lee Lewis Harlots.

Which reminds me that I haven't talked much about the music itself; if you're a fan, you'll know what to expect--it's the sort of hyper-lyrical, alt-alt-alt-alt-country Munly shit that we've come to expect from The Jimmy Carter Syndrome and Lee Lewis Harlots, with the usual torrential outpouring of words that shouldn't scan at ALL and sometimes don't but which still somehow manage to sort of hold together. They're very good, notwithstanding a bit of silliness on "Scarewulf:" the inanimate scarewulf comments on the other characters; he starts with Petr and the refrain goes "it's a mad, mad way he's living;" the refrains for the other characters all repeat this with words that rhyme with "sad," creating a somewhat incongruous Dr-Suess-ish effect, especially when, for grandfater, it goes--no joke--"it's a bad dad way he's living." Stop! You must not hop on pop! I'm observing more than really complaining; these refrains are actually very effective, and the song works, bad dad and all.

"Duk" also stands out, with its frenzied "duck duck goose" chorus. I've already mentioned the hunters; I haven't gotten into the psychodrama of "Petr" and "Grandfater," but come on--we'll be here all night. The closing "Wulf" is more of a monologue than a song (another Munly tradition, of course); it's nowhere near as arresting as "The Fabulous History of the Churchill Falls Barrel Races" from Jimmy Carter, but what is? It does the job.

The best part is that this is supposedly only the first of a two-record narrative. Perhaps the sequel (let's hope it doesn't take another five years to get here) will answer some of the questions raised in Petr; more likely, it'll just raise a whole bunch of new ones, but hey--it's Munly! That's what we're here for!

Truth be told, the individual tracks here probably aren't generally quite as strong as those from the two previous records, but this is more than made up for by the peerless sense of atmosphere that the narrative generates. Ferfuckssake, if you're a Munly fan, you should own this; if not, maybe you should be! Or maybe not. There's probably a reason he's under-er than underground. But I think the record is fantastic and well worth the wait. Booklet includes lyrics, too; I'll post them in the near future.


Anonymous Sam Smith pontificated to the effect that...

I just picked this up the other day and am still trying to get my head around it. With Munly that's probably not an entirely safe endeavor. At first listen, though, I get the sense that this is really going to reward repeated listens.

Nice analysis.

10:43 AM  
Anonymous BigSimo pontificated to the effect that...

Fantastic analysis, makes me appreciate the album more. Also I actually find this to be a step above Jimmy Carter Syndrome. Maybe it's the awesome drums on this...and the fact that Three Wise Hunters is probably the song of the decade for me.

5:03 AM  
Blogger Faster, Harder, More Challenging GeoX pontificated to the effect that...

Thanks--I won't deny I'm liking it more every time I listen to it.

10:09 PM  
Blogger Strangebrew pontificated to the effect that...

I love this album so much... I have it on vinyl but unfortunately no lyrics were attached...
Where can I find them, please?

9:25 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous pontificated to the effect that...

I'll throw this out there although this article is so old. I can clear up one riddle. Lucius Verus ruled with Marcus A. This reference to the Roman Empire brings to mind SCAC's Americadio. If interpreted literally I guess I could see how the 3 kings appear Promethean. However, I think the song is some type of trope. So I am not sure the gifts should be viewed as actual gifts.

6:09 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous pontificated to the effect that...

Oh, I can clear this up as well. Here is the connection between Marcus A. and Lupercalia only it is actually, yet again, a connection to Rome, not MA specifically. The feast of Lupercalia took place at the cave of Lupercal which is where the founders of Rome, Romulus and Remus, were imagined to have been raised by a female wolf.

6:29 AM  

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