A Power of Ten

Slug's love bug, Kat Bjelland's exorcism, Dave Pirner's throbbing shins: Ten years of local music served on ten great platters.

The album's riveting cornerstone, "The Abusing of the Rib," finds our protagonist "acknowledging that I'm just a piece of the sequence" in his lover's story, "but seeing all these footprints got me needing to show my weakness." Over a plaintive, classical piano riff created by producer Ant (a.k.a. Anthony Davis), a freight train blows through the background as the spoken chorus pleads: "If I could show you/You would never leave it."

Elsewhere, an over-the-top electro-pimp number finds its macho chocolate within layers of Eminem's thin candy shell of irony. "Distributing cum across the rotten fruited plain," Slug smirks, "I know it's hard being young, girl, let me soothe the pain." In case you take his bragging about "Richfield bitches" seriously, a second Slug walks into the studio on another vocal track to repudiate the song.

"That is the worst song in the world," Slug says of "Lyle Lovette," with an embarrassed laugh. "I was like, hey, I wrote this and it's kind of fucked up, but I kind of liked it, and it's balanced. I made it basically for Ant--he laughed so hard."

Se7en has the added weight of being a cultural culmination, of sorts: The "Headshots" moniker Slug claims dates back to the mid-Nineties coalition of MCs and DJs that gave rise to St. Paul's Abstract Pack and many of the crews on the tape's imprint, Rhyme Sayers Entertainment. Yet the album is the most convincing proof to date that this crowd is capable of the same depth of feeling as our arty, equally inward-looking punk scene of the Eighties.

Written mostly on the porch of Slug's house and at the Muddy Waters coffee shop, and primarily recorded on a four-track in Ant's basement, the tape collates material from some 15 albums' worth of tracks, according to its creators. At the height of their productivity, Slug and Ant were recording four songs every Sunday, and rejecting another eight from Slug's voluminous notebooks.

"I'll think most of it's garbage, but I'll always find four or five songs that I really like," Slug says. "I haven't recorded nothing in the last couple months. I need to get over there and have my therapy." (Peter S. Scholtes)

 

See also:the lushly layered hip hop of Abstract Pack'sBousta Set It (For the Record).

 

The Legendary Jim Ruiz Group
Oh Brother Where Art Thou?
Minty Fresh, 1995

Oh Brother Where Art Thou? didn't sound like a classic. The charms of its opening number, "Mij Amsterdam," were both plain and subtle, like cool wallpaper. Over a simple bossa nova guitar strum, two not-ready-for-prime-time voices, male and female, sang gently out of tune. Jim Ruiz's soft croon was less "Girl From Ipanema" than "Bein' Green," a song the facetiously titled Legendary Jim Ruiz Group might have covered. Stephanie Winter's backup was suitably icy--vermouth to Jim's gin--but even with a Northern English accent she came off more like Moe Tucker than Nico. Yet the couple's amateurishness was oddly disarming. And when Ruiz sang, "If you play the drums, then you'll go far, because everyone here plays guitar," his Amsterdam began to sound less like the opening conversation piece of Pulp Fiction than bohemian Minneapolis, an inviting panorama of squats, home brew, and living-room rock.

Intrigued by the lyrics, some locals gave the music a chance. The ska of "My Bloody Yugo," with its minor key and mournful sax line, captured the spookiness and mystery of old Desmond Dekker sides like "Fu Manchu" without evoking No Doubt's Cali-core. The disco-samba of "Stormtrooper" was a genre unto itself, a whirlpool of swirling guitar arpeggios by John Crozier--a reclusive virtuoso whom few non-scenesters had heard of, though his wash of noise colored dozens of great local 45s in the first few years of the decade.

The lyrics, too, were more than first met the ear. "Yugo" found Ruiz bargaining with death: "I haven't learned my French yet/And I have not learned to ballroom dance," he pleaded. On "She's Gone Away," he added, "In this life you take what you get/But what if life has not started yet?" before warbling the refrain, "And fear and guilt and pain are my companions every day." The narrator's wariness of professional drudgery and slacker depression wasn't the half of it. As some listeners knew, the mod bassist-turned-jazz guitarist had survived a motor-scooter accident in 1990 that killed his fiancée and bandmate, Rena Erickson. Now, collating songs from before and after her death, Brother charted a geography of loss.

"It's a very dark record," Ruiz admits now. "I wanted to write for jazz guitar, which is what I learned to play. But I wanted to write songs that had the emotional quality of punk, that intensity."

The result was a mood piece as evocative of its time as the Replacements' Let It Be, though its cultural confluence was mostly coincidental. Coming years after scenesters began trading flannels for cocktail dresses and three-button blazers, Brother was closer in tone to the Style Council (whom Ruiz adored) than, say, Combustible Edison. But its 1995 release on Minty Fresh (the label that launched the Cardigans) struck a diminished but distinct chord with college radio, presaging a resurgent interest in Brazilian pop and singer-songwriters. Radio K listeners voted it the second best album of the year, and the disk eventually sold around 5,000 copies.

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