Miner Threats: Get Wasted with Chat Pile
Remember the madman that reviewed all 50+ tracks on the TO 2020 sampler? The name is Iron Goddess of Mercy, and this is another excellent article of his.
“The founders of a new colony, whatever Utopia of human virtue and happiness they might originally project,” opines the narrator on the opening page of The Scarlet Letter, “ have invariably recognized it among their earliest practical necessities to allot a portion of the virgin soil as a cemetery, and another portion as the site of a prison.” Invariably, death comes for even the utopians; crime, too, will invariably follow any utopic sojourn. Or, at least, crime must follow when the Utopia in question is founded by a bunch of dickhead Puritans.
Alternatively, or additionally, Hawthorne might have added “waste management” to the above list. While both mortality and criminality were problems nineteenth-century writers of utopian fiction tried frequently to re-imagine or to simply imagine away, waste remained at the center of so many utopian novels of the era. In perhaps the most well-known example, William Morris filled the halls of Parliament with the waste materials of his future utopian England. Blunt though the image may be, it answers a critical question: what the fuck do we do with all our shit?
Of course, death and crime are just signifiers of waste. Cemeteries, once plotted at the center of town, play host to the wasting away of decomposing bodies. “Developed” and “enlightened” societies treat criminals as the dregs, as the waste material, of civilization. They are people who wasted opportunities getting wasted and ended up as waste to be interred in a prison cell. What is Hester Prynne but waste personified? Her sin is nothing more than the laying to waste of God’s good graces and Puritanical ethics. Mark her as such and dispose of her on the outskirts of town. (Don’t actually do that, by the way. That’s, like, the whole point of the book. Fuckin’ Puritans. Fuckin’ colonists.)
Chat Pile, a four-piece ensemble named for the hundreds of piles of toxic chat that have made the city of Picher, Oklahoma, uninhabitable, are well-acquainted with waste. Often compared to stalwarts such as Big Black, Swans, and Godflesh, Chat Pile is less malicious than the former, not as avant garde as Gira’s madness, nor as brutally heavy as the latter. Rather, Chat Pile plays a groovy, gnarled noise rock that fits quite nicely alongside contemporary down-tuned ballyhoos Eye Flys. Hailing from Oklahoma City, a town whose recent meteoric rise in popularity is predicated on the billionaire-led heist of the Seattle Supersonics and its state’s brazen embrace of nefarious energy corporations and catastrophic fracking policies, Chat Pile lead the 21st-century waste processional like Jesus Lizard on his way to Nazareth.
More than simply lead the processional, Chat Pile makes waste personal. Vocalist Raygun Busch spews forth mucky confessionals, repeatedly impressing upon listeners: “I’m garbage.” “Garbage Man,” the fourth and final track of Chat Pile’s Remove Your Skin Please ends with that very refrain, and the listener is hard-pressed not to picture Chat Pile as four garbage men tasked with laying bare their state’s refusal of its own refuse. Once lead- and zinc-mining hollowed out the city of Picher and left the land virtually unlivable, national and state officials simply left Picher to rot. Chat Pile, however, refuses to leave such travesties forgotten or unnoticed.
But it is not just the trauma of environmental waste that permeates Chat Pile’s foul, chunky riffs and industrial rhythms. Interpersonal trauma, the trauma of abuse, and the trauma of embodiment all mix together in a stinking mess of Li’l Lisa Slurry. “Dallas Beltway” is a drunken exposition on domestic violence and the intergenerational transmission of such damage. The stumbling protagonist is thinking about fathers and grandfathers, and it is unclear whose “ordinary hands” will do something terrible to “something fragile.” “Watch me. Watch me. Watch me. Watch me,” impels our protagonist, but we cannot be sure this isn’t a repetition of the excuses laid at the feet of victims. It’s a harrowing way to open the record, but it is fitting with the remaining tracks. Just as the title of the EP politely requests its listeners to become uncomfortably vulnerable, the rest of the album’s tracks—the almost gentle “Mask,” the confrontational “Davis,” and the aforementioned “Garbage Man”—all reciprocate and mirror back to the listener the band’s utter helplessness in the face of environmental, social, physical, and psychical degradation.
This Dungeon Earth, the first of Chat Pile’s two 2019 EPs, might be a bit lighter in fare but make no mistake: we are still very much waste. On the stand-out track “Rainbow Meat,” Busch begs us, “Send my body to Arby’s,” so that it might be cut into thin slices and processed into a Horsey Sauce-drenched Roast Beef & Cheddar. We are and eat flesh. We eat and are filth. No rinsing, no washing, just the repetition of waste. So we are left gnashing our teeth and gnawing on walls like dear “Rat Boy” and hiding ourselves away in the “Crawlspace” of our dilapidated homes. Hot dogs cause cancer, after all, so what chance do we have to be any more than chattering piles of toxic schmaltz.
In an interview with a Tulsa radio station, the band makes clear that naming themselves after the environmental devastation of Picher was not done to make light of the situation. The name pays tribute to the uprooted lives, poisoned children, and blighted lands of the city and its former inhabitants. Though most people abandoned Picher by the 2000s, a few remain. It goes without saying, of course, that those who stayed are not responsible for what happened. Yet, like the spectral miners of Babylon in the critically under-appreciated Carnivale, those still living in Picher remind us that there is, as Hawthorne wrote, “a fatality, a feeling so irresistible and inevitable that it has the force of doom, which almost invariably compels human beings to linger around and haunt, ghostlike, the spot where some great and marked event has given the color to their lifetime, and still the more irresistibly, the darker the tinge that saddens it.”
Fatal, irresistible, and gleefully dark, Chat Pile compels us to stay.
While hard copies of Chat Pile’s EPs are no longer available, digital copies of each EP can be purchased on their bandcamp. Why waste your money on anything else??
Chat Pile reportedly can be found on Instagram and Twitter, but you should just delete your social media instead.