5 out of 5
Label: Skin Graft
Produced by: Jim O’Rourke
I think I started my U.S. Maple tour with Acre Thrills (confirmed, glancing back at my review…), and I can’t recall exactly what made that my purchase, except, likely, my awareness of their Skin Graft-y ties and constant namecheck amongst other weird-adjacent bands. In the years that followed, more now-wave, Skin Graft, and U.S. Maple stuff found its way into my catalogue, with Acre remaining my touchpoint for how the band should “sound.” I admittedly loved the comparatively straight-forward Purple On Time, but the group’s earlier stuff remained at something of a distance. Especially Long Hair In Three Stages: when you come back to this disc with a healthy amount of skronk piped through your earholes, it sounds downright, like, normal. But I took a breath, waited a decade or so, and now I’m back to relisten, and god damn my unadaptable listening abilities, as Long Hair is, absolutely, the post-everything masterpiece most reviews would claim it to be.
Almost every song starts like someone just discovered a guitar, just discovered chords, and then stumbles into a jam. Soon enough, lush (as in drunk) drums stumble in, and then maybe that other guitar starts to do the wiggle-waggle as well, or maybe plunk some seemingly discordant notes. And who’s this raspy-voiced guy chanting atop the mess in a style that’s either frightening, or humorous, or, I dunno, just plain mixed up?
Most importantly: why the Hell does all of this noise work together so well?
U.S. Maple should be a joke band you toss on to marvel at how crap it is; how bizarre Al Johnson’s vocals are; but you can’t shake it off. There’s a crooked smile when the group launches into a groove, while your stomach is churning with the awareness that the group is rocking out majestically, lurching into half-breed solos or epic chord progressions but taking it away and reconstructing it before you can stand up and proclaim that you ‘get’ it.
Opener Hey King leads you on like its an improv instrumental before suddenly congealing into a rompin’ stompin’ singalong; The State Is Bad, mid-album, taunts you with tight guitar chops, surrounded by messes of intense noise breakdowns with the preceding and succeeding tracks; Lady To Bing has an intense guitar duel befitting of a concluding track, but of course, U.S. Maple don’t go out like that and things collapse just at the right time to solidify the album as a classic. A messed up one, but one that gets under your skin from the get-go and keeps you raptly enthralled with its oddball enthusiasm all the way through.