Guest Review: Sean Barrett Sings it Ugly with Those Poor Bastards
In this guest review, Toilet pal Sean Barrett discusses a new album that isn’t quite metal but that capture the spirit of this genre in a way that many never do. Let’s all go down to the crossroads and sell our souls to the adversary with Those Poor Bastards and Sing It Ugly.
From the mouth and hands of Lonesome Wyatt, the foulest leper to emerge from the backwoods of Wisconsin, and the hands and feet of his hooded partner, The Minister, about whom nothing definitive is known, Those Poor Bastards unleash upon us loathsome sinners their eighth full-length, Sing It Ugly, and we must once more be judged in the intense, unwavering gaze of a doomsday preacher.
For a quick bit of background, these cats have been described (I can’t remember where) as a cross between Nick Cave, Danzig, Marilyn Manson, and Johnny Cash. They’ve collaborated with and been covered by Hank III. Walking upright in a musical territory merely stumbled through by King Dude and Nocturnal Poisoning (no slight to either act), their sonic approach is as raw, primitive, and venomous as the most frostbitten second wave black metal release you can think of, yet comes from the forests and dust of the American Midwest. All this with the atmosphere of reading Ethan Frome or Wise Blood alone by an open fire.
Because their output’s too diverse for any song to be “representative,” here’s one of their most metal, just to give a taste of what to expect from the new record.
On their 2014 LP, Vicious Losers, the approach was a bitter one, a vicious harangue spat through phlegm and bile. On Sing It Ugly, things take a turn for the unexpected. Heavy use of vocal effects evoke the phonograph and Appalachia’s darlings, The Carter Family. Though the lyrics, as they often do with Wyatt, concern bastard spirituality, doomed isolation, and decay, some of the tunes are downright jaunty, sometimes even to the point of danceability. On previous albums, the higher energy songs would be of a very feral, seeing-red energy, but the added Jerry Lee Lewis-style piany and, on the first track, even a kind of dark polka, puts a whole ‘nother beast on our hands. On “Mysterious Things,” lines like “Let’s wrap a man in the chains of a beast and hold him underwater till he drown” are sung over sunny-afternoon, low-key bluegrass guitar with demented glee. It’s pretty fucking satisfying.
Sing It Ugly also sports some surprisingly pretty touching ballads. From such a low-down sinful man who laments his lack of empathy for the human race, it’s strange to hear moments, like on “Sorry For Everything” and “Evil Selfish Fool,” where he repents that “I know I’m awful, I know I deserve this, I wish I was not what I am.” Such self-pity in a less skilled writer would be pretty goddamn groan-inducing, sure, but this is someone who can get at this stuff in a way that gives the listener cause and permission to look inward toward times they’ve treated people – especially women – badly, brought all of their suffering upon themselves, and then had to live with both the torture and the torturer.
There’s a variety of tone on this album that, before, was covered in the band’s discography as a whole. Some of it’s fun-evil, some of it’s evil-evil, some of it’s righteously angry, and some of it’s downright miserable. The sequencing’s tasteful enough that we don’t hang out in any of these territories too long, nor are we jerked around. The songs are packed with enough ideas that they, in less seasoned hands, would be longer, but, as it is on Pet Sounds, the songs and the album as a whole are short enough to bear repeating.
My only caveat: if you haven’t hear Those Poor Bastards before, this maybe isn’t the best introduction. This seems to be an augur of some new direction rather than another characteristic release (though, really, none of them are). If you’re new to this particular gloom, I’d recommend starting instead with The Plague and Satan Is Watching, two full-lengths that were both released in 2008 somehow. If this isn’t your first rodeo (or, hell, even if it is), then this is a special flavor of evil that you’re gonna spin again and again.
For managing to invoke a sinister brand of soulful tunes that would make Robert Johnson proud, I give Sing it Ugly
4.5 out ov 5 Flaming Outhouses ov Hell
Vinyls, CDs, and downloads are available at Wyatt’s own label for his various projects, Tribulation Records.
And, for fun, here’s a blackened noise act covering a song off of Satan Is Watching. I sent this to Wyatt, who said, “That was an evil version of the song. I liked it.”