Crappin' You Negative (Shangri-La)
Grifters

By Bob Bahr

There are a number of things that the Grifters do right on Crappin' You Negative, starting with the Stephen King-inspired title. But there are a number of issues about this album that are downright troublesome.

On the positive side, we have some interesting arrangements, an unpredictable production approach, a few classic-minded guitar riffs and a hip, flippant sense of humor. On the negative, we have pretentiousness, guile and ideas that are not fully utilized. This Memphis band makes it clear that this music is meant to be art. So the question becomes, Is this good art or bad art?

If they were pulled into the Court of Lo-Fi Standards and Measurements (a division of the Alternative Rock Judicial System), the Grifters may get their aural-mud licenses revoked by some songs. Tunes like "Felt-Tipped Over" and "Rats" may bail them out, but first they would have to atone for the shimmering guitars and the phase-shifted vocals in "Get Outta That Spaceship & Fight Like a Man." While we're in front of the judge, let's discuss the pretense of not listing band members anywhere on a CD.

CDs are produced to distribute music to a mass audience. Distribution is dependent on marketing, marketing relies on things like image. Image needs people, people have names, CDs should list the names of the people playing the dang music. Even if the Grifters reject this system (with a capital "s"?), they have an obligation to fans. Who are you, Grifters?

Evidently, they are musicians who are well acquainted with Pink Floyd, Codeine, Southern rock, twangy Western music, Pavement and the heavy metal bands of the late '60s and early '70s. Crappin' You Negative fits in the current alternative rock stream with its trudging guitars, downbeat lyrics and minimalist undertones. But it also tips its hat to the Doors (on "Skin Man Palace") and Floyd (throughout). The thievery is subtle and appropriate, but the question still remains: Is this good art?

"Junkie Blood" definitely qualifies, with its gritty dream of a lyrical theme and a disintegrating sound mix at the conclusion. "Get Outta That Spaceship & Fight Like a Man" blends blues with science fiction to create a sloppy slice of winningly haphazard rock. "Cinnamon" has momentum, urgency and a structure that unfolds in a most interesting manner.

Some sounds on this disc are surprising. The Grifters are not afraid to let the music degenerate into noisy bedlam, nor do they hesitate to leave the drums at the back of the mix, shackled by a primitive sound. Vocals are up front and often electronically altered. Though the album has cohesion, each song seems to have been approached with a fresh production outlook, resulting in an album of many flavors and textures.

Good art or bad art? That's in the eye of the beholder.