The King of France: Salad Days

The King of France
Salad Days
Egret Records

Though credited to the King of France (who he?), this CD is actually the unreleased final album from Minneapolis indie-yelpers Deformo--the band burned a copy of it for me a few years ago, and I've been listening to it ever since. So more than the usual amount of procrastination went into putting off writing about it. My first assignment for City Pages was hanging out with Deformo in 1998 as they recorded their song "That's Why" in Mike Wisti's Minneapolis basement studio (sessions continued through 2000 for this album). I remember the musicians as relaxed but focused, like babies fixated on a ceiling fan. But even before I heard more finished versions of the song, with Mark Mallman's aquamarine synth and Ezra Hale's Tijuana brass, I knew this stoned lo-fi was the rare slacker pop that justifies slacker pop.

Heard today, the lyrics still sound like a disconnected sex manual for depressants: "My spine's a chain for a ball... Set your heels in the sides of my body... I'm afraid the missionary's chants have made me fall asleep." And singer Steve Salett (or "Steve Salad") sounds convincingly discombobulated. But his melodic sneakiness is second nature, and the words stick long after you stop trying to understand them. Having previously distinguished himself as a kind of nerdy, indie-rock Busta Rhymes on vocals (imagine Frank Black eating Ethel Merman's heart out), Salett circa Salad Days is a nerdy, indie-rock Johnny Cash--a step forward that coincided with guitarist Charles Mister's gradual withdrawal from the band. Everyone in Deformo, Mister included, agreed to let Salett release the music as the King of France, his band in New York. To confuse things further, though, the newer Salad salad, which appears Friday at the Turf Club, includes former Deformo members Nick Hook and Tom Siler (of Tulip Sweet).

The reason none of that matters is that Salad Days is a timeless time capsule, its delayed release only making the song "Days Go By" more poignant. The tune's wiggly beauty is characteristically tough to nail down: Like the similarly arresting "Persephone" (with the Odd's Hilary Churchill uncredited on harmonies), it's put together out of the simplest riffs on guitar and harmonium. But those bits sound less lazy than easy, the effortless gorgeousness of guys who never had a hope of becoming Pavement or Liz Phair, and outdid them all (in my humble opinion) as a result. Note to Steve: Send me the next masterpiece soon and I promise I'll do better when it comes out in five years.

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