zdbd – America Drinks and Goes Home

The conclusion of Absolutely Free is a reprise to America Drinks, presented fully-polished and oozing with reprehensible charm. The style, sound effects, and happily-chatting voices layered throughout sell the idea of a conclusion to a music-hall performance. The voice, and irregular rhythm of the lyrics, is fantastic, and the jazzy drumming, with brushes, no doubt, gives this short tune a driving force.

After the lyrics conclude, the voice speaks aloud to the various patrons of the music-hall, directing them to future events, soliciting feedback, playing the gracious host to a T. “Caravan with a drum solo” is addressed, and he sarcastically says they’ll do it. He scats a bit to close out the tune, and the album ends with a “Night all,” the clinking of cash machines, and the delighted shouts of a rowdy audience at last call.

zdbd – It Can’t Happen Here

Perhaps weirder yet than Help I’m A Rock, this tune is almost entirely a-capella. Not for the faint of heart, I’ll admit, but I love it. After the rather formulaic album that preceded it, the sheer audacity of the experiment won me over – not to mention the quality of the vocals and the sardonic take on the topic. The more Zappa insists that “it can’t happen here,” the more I’m certain “it” can.

The layered vocals, with overlapping and contrasting rhythms, fill up what could otherwise be a tonne of empty space, absent any musical instruments. Zappa and his band get amazing mileage from a variety of vocal pitches, rhythms, and harmonies, many of which are highly-processed.
There’s a short break with tinkling piano, over a jazzy drumkit, early in the song, suggesting the tune might be an elaborate, dissonant breakdown, but the a-capella vocals reappear before long: “Who could imagine / that they would freak out / in Washington DC?” which posits the title of the album, before the many voices insist that “you’re safe mama,” which the song itself promises is not true.

The “I remember / doo doo / they had a swimming pool” part is instantly compelling to me with its unusual, cut-off rhythm that only happens two of the three times, before the song moves on. We first meet Susie Creamcheese in this tune – Zappa addresses her directly, and she speaks for herself: “forget it,” she says, before reverberant vocals, promising one last time that “it can’t happen here,” carry us, dissolving, into the stratosphere.

chiaroscuro portraits: a story circle

chiaroscuro portraits – a story circle

Chiaroscuro portraits on her bedroom wall. She tunes the radio with a smooth glide of her wrist, but hears nothing but static. Beads of sweat emerge at her brow, and she goes over to her collection of records – a few dozen scuffed 45s stacked in milk crates. Her fingertips, dry skin flaking, flick through the records. The sound they make is like a skittering insect’s many legs.

She selects a post-fusion jazz trio featuring Etna St. Dames on synthesizer, spools it onto her record player, sets the needle.

No sound emerges from the dusty speaker.

She scribbles the needle across the grooves but hears only rhythmless static. She yanks the needle and it comes off in her hands with a soft click. The static goes with it. She touches the plastic portrait frames, their subjects silently staring.

Logan Bright