The Taxpayers + How OZ Got There
Most music reviews, as “professional” music critics write them, use a litany of familiar musical references so that the critic can save time, avoid thought and still receive a full paycheck. It’s a great gig if you never have to look in a mirror or leave the house. It’s a great gig if you never die. The gods and goddesses are pissed; they are waiting because, yes, it is a sin to saunter past inspired musical creation and ignore its presence in exchange for false securities. As An Untitled Musical Project (AUMP) simply stated, “Being on the dole isn’t rock n roll.”
we don’t do music reviews. We do infrequent musical essays when a “product” demands our attention.
It’s true, we will never be able to compete with Pitchfork; writing meaningless shitty drivel has become a unique artform perfected by those reviewers on the dole. We’re not looking to upset the precarious balance between corporate-sponsored critics and the thoughtless paycheck-driven rants that seem to have become the very definition of the music industry. We write about what we like in hopes that music that deserves attention won’t be dismissed because it’s not “easy”.
And yet, here we are. The best album of the year is…. It’s a ridiculous exercise. It’s more absurd since the internet has made music so accessible. Tens of thousands of releases via labels, websites, YouTube; who can possibly choose one release and call it “the best”? Despite our protest, we’ll give it a shot, if only for fear that a great band will be completely forgotten.
As the four (or is it three) major labels have eliminated A&R departments and concentrated on marketing a handful of “proven” sellers, new bands and musicians have never been in a better place for calling their own shots. For 99.9% of artists, the chase to sign with a “major” is not only unimportant, it is undesirable.
Established artists are even less in need of corporate labels and, clearly, labels have little influence on music icons, like Lou Reed. Critics matter even less, except for the fact that they still hold music publications hostage with their opinions, some less daring than others. Examples, you say? I’ll indulge…. Lou Reed and Metallica united for a project called Lulu. Metallica fans sent death threats to Lou because of the project. Now that’s when you know Lou’s project was some serious fuckin’ art. A vast majority of critics recommended no one even buy Lulu, one going so far as to say, “It has been said that this album is experimental, so I feel it is safe to say that this album was a failure and nothing of this sort should ever be tried again.”
All of this musical highbrow debate got a fire into us at BustedatOZ.com. We decided to write our own review because, well, fuck them. We made it clear that Lulu will, in time, make the critics and rock establishment look as ridiculous for their condemnation as they did when they heaped the same uninformed scorn and disdain on Lou Reed’s “Berlin.” Lulu is a painful, beautiful and disconcerting project that reconfirms a simple fact: Lou Reed is among a small handful of truly literate musicians in rock n roll.
Future of the Left (FOTL) released “The Plot Against Common Sense,” also condemned by the likes of strategists at Pitchfork. This is the other 2012 release for which BustedatOZ.com provided a musical essay (and we appreciate the unwashed corporate Philistines at Pitchfork for making it so much fun).
Falco has written some of the best lyrics in his 12-year career and FOTL continue to expand musically, especially in concert with the addition of a fourth band member. Falco’s brilliance is not about rock clichés, preaching to a choir or even trying to change your point of view. Falco simply and powerfully provides his observations and opinions in an incredibly literate and satirical manner. I doubt that he gives a rat’s ass as to whether he is changing anyone’s mind about anything. Like Lou, Falco’s music and lyrics demand thought. What an insignificant price to pay for the gift of art.
So there is music, art and something called ‘edge’. My friend, Liz Bjorkland, was one of Chicago’s original punk musicians going back to the time that OZ (1980s) was just starting and Naked Raygun and The Effigies were in their infancy. Liz, and her husband, Steve Bjorkland, continue to be among the most vital of Chicago’s original punk musicians (their current project is High Value Target). I believe that music is “better” now than it was in the late 1970s/early 1980s. Certainly, the musicianship is better. Liz agrees to a limited extent. Her point is valid and almost convincing to me. As I suggest new bands to her, she often tells me that they are musically accomplished but they lack an edge. There was an edge to most punk bands when the scene exploded in the 1970s. That edge is not nearly as pervasive among new bands and it hasn’t been for years. What happened?
I agree that bands with a real edge are hard to find, even though there is an abundance of good musicians and releases. Lulu and Future of the Left’s “The Plot Against Common Sense” easily stand out as the best releases in 2012 because they are lyrically and musically brilliant…. definitely an edge.
It would be easy for BustedatOZ.com to name either release the “best” of 2012, despite the ridiculousness of the effort. Fuck easy.
Our choice for best release of 2012 is The Taxpayers: God, Forgive These Bastards Songs From The Forgotten Life Of Henry Turner.
I am reluctant to use the word “beauty” to describe this release because it is an uncomfortable, sometimes painful, borderline tragic and beautiful experience. It is a little like listening to Lulu or like watching Punch-Drunk Love. It’s our own discomfort that results in us embracing somebody else’s life and journey as if it were our own. If we are anything more than a detached observer of life, we all know a Henry Turner. The Taxpayers make sure that we know him even better. The Taxpayers have made him universal, immortal and part of us.
The Taxpayers are not prisoners of musical genres or conventions.
The band uses music to drive the lyrics. How best to deliver the story? Few bands have the diverse musical talent to pull this off as masterfully as The Taxpayers. Few bands hear music quite like The Taxpayers. They have incorporated nearly a century of musical styles and influences into their musicianship. That would be impressive enough. But, instead of merely incorporating a huge range of musical influences, The Taxpayers have reinvented, pureed and served up the music of generations into something boldly unique, challenging and, yes, edgy. This album refuses to allow for complacency no matter how often you listen to it.
After repeated listening, one of the album’s lasting impacts is the unexpected. Bombast and subtlety are balanced delicately and awkwardly throughout this album. I imagine that might also describe the life of Henry Turner.
Henry Turner. Was he simply a misfit? Some of us are. Was his life one of misfortune beyond his control or missed opportunities that he chose to ignore? Was he an asshole or was assholism his defense? None of that is important. Henry Turner was a person and his dignity as a person is revealed in the course of these songs.
The next time you are walking down the street and encounter your Henry Turner, don’t look away. Make eye contact. Ask how his day is going and engage in conversation. You may discover that you will have a story to tell about your Henry Turner as remarkable as the story that The Taxpayers have created on God, Forgive These Bastards Songs From The Forgotten Life Of Henry Turner.
I was about half-way through listening to God, Forgive These Bastards Songs From The Forgotten Life Of Henry Turner when I grabbed a pen and paper and started making a list of musical influences I was hearing on this album. I’ve never been inclined to do that in decades of listening to music. When I reached the half-way mark of this album for the second time, I had already sent an uncontrollable boy, overly-excited e-mail to Becky (our music essayist extraordinaire) about my audio-induced cum shot that convinced me that I had discovered the cure for blue balls.
Becky’s response: Who doesn’t The Taxpayers pull from? It’s hard to listen to songs and say well I hear this and that or they sound like so-and-so from circa blah blah blah. The brilliance of The Taxpayers is that they sound so familiar but yet they are, well, themselves. As ridiculous as that sounds, it’s difficult to find that in a band and even more impossible to pull off in one ‘sound’. For example, a single track contains about 10 influences, either all at once or in succession but nothing of a rip off on any of them. That said, it’s not an artsy trip though some reference hell… It just is and it fucking works. Bizarre? I’d say so. And if you love punk in all its spirit, for all it represents – holy shit – you found the right band.
BustedatOZ.com is committed to music that matters. We believe new artists that are creating challenging and quality work deserve those of us that appreciate art to pay attention, spend time listening and thinking about the work, and then make a real effort to support the artist.
The Taxpayers releases are available for download and are available in formats other than MP3. The fact that the band makes available downloads in no-loss formats is another example of their respect for their fans.
Buy The Taxpayers
You can buy God, Forgive These Bastards Songs From The Forgotten Life Of Henry Turner and previous The Taxpayers’ release here. We encourage you to buy everything being offered and you won’t be sorry. The Taxpayers have made it very affordable and offered a number of download formats. Please pay a fair price for these downloads because touring is expensive and paying more than the minimum will help get this vital band back on the road.
Busted at OZ Notes on Critics
We considered there might be some backlash to the opinion of critics herein. Possibly something along the lines of “easy to critique a critic, it’s not your paycheck on the line….” Correct. It is not our paycheck on the line. But it is your paycheck. It is your responsibility. It is your writing that holds a certain power. When so many newer artists are creating some of the best music of our lives and are deserving of our attention, is it necessary to write another review about U2, McCartney or any other musician signed to a major label and devoid of anything interesting to say since 1980? We believe that art criticism should include, in a big way, brilliant artists that are not receiving the recognition and exposure that they have earned. Writing a review about the next Rolling Stones release is meaningless; it will still sell exactly what the last 10 Rolling Stones’ releases have sold and not a single person will be inclined to buy or not buy it based on a critic’s review. Why not use the power of your publication to encourage your readers to discover new or underappreciated artists?
And now for something that makes us most hate music critics, the never-ending, space-filling references to musical influences.
Here is a list of influences that Becky and I compiled during our very first time listening to God, Forgive These Bastards Songs From The Forgotten Life Of Henry Turner, the best album of 2012.
- The Plot To Blow Up The Eiffel Tower
- Dresden Dolls
- Gogol Bordello
- West Side Story (the musical)
- They Might Be Giants
- Butthole Surfers
- Tom Waits
- The Mountain Goats
- Bob Dylan (pre-1976)
- John Prine
- Violent Femmes
- A Salavation Army Band (that doesn’t mind a drink or six)
- Squirrel Nut Zippers
- Nick Cave
This musical essay is dedicated to a much missed musical pioneer…Willy DeVille. Willy’s music reflected street life in a way that sets a bar for urban musicians, no matter what the genre. His music also celebrated and honored the history of R&B, jazz, blues, New Orleans and rock n roll. Willy became on overnight punk hero with one song, “Cadillac Walk.” There is not a punk alive that does not know that song. Willy was also a pioneer with free sharing of his music and there are many live shows available that were all recorded with his permission and shared with his encouragement. I was blessed to see Willy in concert a few times and I have amassed a large collection of his concerts on both video and CD. His studio albums establish him as one of the finest arrangers of music of our generation. Without hesitation, I believe that Willy would have loved The Taxpayers God, Forgive These Bastards Songs From The Forgotten Life Of Henry Turner. The Taxpayers share Willy’s commitment to sharing the charms, contradictions and struggle of street life and they share his belief that great music deserves even better arrangements.