Ear Candy: The Bitter Taste of Wax

by Chris Ullsperger

Probably most people reading this have at one time or another tasted their ear wax. Maybe not recently, but almost certainly at some point in our youth we sat in math class, stared out the window, twisted a skinny 5th grade finger in one of the old sound holes, netted a quarter gram of the finest ear wax and--just for curiosity's sake--took a lick when the teacher wasn't looking. The answer to the obvious question is bitter. Ear wax tastes bitter. My 7th grade science teacher, Mr. Goldsmith, actually tasted his own ear wax one class period, for demonstration purposes, and came up with the same conclusion. Bitter as acorn meat.

So I thought it was interesting when a friend of mine said that Stereolab was "ear candy". I knew what he meant right away, that listening to Stereolab's latest album, Mars Audio Quintet (UHF), was the aural equivalent of sucking on some big fat digital lollipop. Thankfully, the center is Moog-flavored, and it doesn't take very many notes to get there. I'd say about three notes into the song "Outer Accelerator," I'm there. In this particular case, the words aren't in French: "In whatever society, there invariably, will seem to be, just a few men, keen to rule...." And so the future is ushered in, marching to the pulsating rhythm of a beautifully flanged guitar. I highly recommend the compilation of hard-to-find singles Switched on Stereolab (Slumberland) as well.

Okay, back to the ear wax thing. How can Stereolab be "ear candy" if it tastes good? REAL ear candy shouldn't be so palatable. So let's take a step back from the programmed ecstacy of the present's future and look for a moment at one band's vision of the past's future. The album in question is The Operation of the Sonne (Siltbreeze) and the band, The Dead C. On some level, the record evokes the wacked-out gyroscope-on-the-piano flakiness of a similarly titled psychedelic album by a similarly named band. However, at least one track on Sonne, "Mordant Heaven," presents a very clear vision of postmodern New Zealand, and does so without a single bass guitar riff. A unique feat. The vision is a cross between the Medusa scene in Clash of the Titans and the first thirty minutes of Logan's Run. And remember how Clash of the Titans had the star that kind of looked like Jim Morrison? Well, he's there, too--Morrison, that is. An appealing vision, you may find, if you're up really late at night on drugs or driving about in a strange, hostile part of town. Just be sure to clean out your ears. And remember: bitter.

By now I guess a few readers have taken me up and sampled some of their own ear drippings and are thinking, "Hey, mine's not bitter! I've been misled!" cuz it's true, not everybody's is bitter, exactly. If there's bacteria or stuff there, then it can be a lot worse than merely bitter. My day job is bacteriology, so let me offer a bit of advice to the unlucky few who finds themselves so afflicted. A very effective way of busting up bacteria in the lab is to "sonicate" them; that is, expose the bugs to some high energy bursts of white noise. To this end, only the most harsh sound collages played through earphones at high volume will suffice to disrupt the bacteria embedded in your ear wax. That is why I leapt for joy when I got in the mail a few weeks ago two cassettes from Box Dog Sound in Seattle (PO Box 9609 Seattle WA 98109 USA). Between Five Rabid Yardcats and Apprehension + Summer Afternoons (the latter is a compilation), I don't know which affords me more lysis. Only three bucks a piece, too, so you can hardly go wrong, even if you just like to get weird stuff in the mail. Plus you'll get the catalogue from the affiliated label, Cher Doll, so you'll check out their amazing "Amazing Phantom 3rd Channel" compilation, featuring Neutral Milk Hotel, and you'll never want to hear a fuzzless guitar again. Fresh glitter on the record sleeve, too, which is always a bonus.

Okay, so we've cured the bacteria problem for the time being. Now you want to hear something comforting, perhaps. Something like the songs you sang to yourself as a kid when you walked home from school alone, kicking leaf piles in November, smelling chimney smoke when the stars come out, watching squirrels get fat eating acorns (the meat of which is quite bitter, by the way--acorn meat, that is). In short, songs to take you home again, or someplace like home, where nostalgia shouts in your face how freaking great it is to be alive. What you need, my friends, is The Mountain Goats. To paraphrase from their song "Alpha Incipiens", the only thing I know is I that I love them and I'm holding on. Zopilote Machine (Ajax) changed my life and after hearing that record I'm sure you'll be changed too. I'd recommend the other Mountain Goats masterpiece, Beautiful Rat Sunset (Shrimper), or their singles, but then I'd have to start talking about all the other great bands on Shrimper and this damn editorial or whatever the hell it is would be twice as long. Okay, then, time for lunch!

(If indie rock interests you, you may find a subscription to the sick-n-tired mailing list rewarding.)


Copyright 1994 Chris Ullsperger
ullsperg@mendel.berkeley.edu
Enterzone Copyright 1995
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