Stoner rock album of the year? It’s right here alongside new material from singer-songwriter Cody Culberson. –– Anthony Mariani
Complete’s Beginning of a New Era
You know what “Hoogie Boogie Land” is, right? If not, it is a strange relic of mid-’90s cable access programming that found its way to internet fame. (As of this writing, the video has been viewed 619,027 times.) Onstage at some club, a band from Fort Worth called Complete “plays” the titular song, a confusing, plodding exercise in free jazz. Or something. In “Hoogie Boogie Land,” according to frontman Curt Low, neither war nor hate exists. Apparently, playing in tune doesn’t exist either. The “song” is so dreadful that you can’t tell if the guys are for real or are playing a trick on the world that’s equal parts Andy Kaufman and Lloyd Christmas. Complete is the kind of “band” that people who claim to be fans of the band Flipper flip out over. Flipper was unlistenable on purpose. Complete is authentically awful.
In a way, that genuine awfulness is a selling point and not necessarily in a smug, ironic way. A couple of months ago, Complete released its debut album. Available on Spotify and iTunes, no less, Beginning of a New Era is, well, really nothing new. Yes, the guys play their instruments marginally better, and, yes, the songs are slightly better structured than the endless, aural purgatories that were the two-chord guesswork of “Hoogie Boogie Land” –– and “Hot as Hell” (157,543 views), “Beautiful Sunrises” (119,842 views), “Dream-Ing” (95,568 views), and “Into the Night” (94,619 views). But the band is still about as unforgivably horrendous as a full diaper thrown at happy newlyweds as they emerge from church.
And yet! New Era is still entertaining. It sounds as if it had been recorded live in a small rehearsal space (is “carport-rock” a thing?) with a single microphone plugged into an iPhone. It sounds horrible, but the horrible sounds really put you in the room with the band. Aside from maybe an album consisting only of the inhuman groans of a multiple-gunshot victim in the ER, this is the realest album you’re likely to hear this year.
I’m also going to go on a limb and call it the stoner rock album of the year, because while it’s unpleasant to listen to no matter what, it’s pretty fun to hear when you’re as high as a giraffe’s ass. Every song starts off with Low offering various degrees of backstory. In real life, he may be the only rock star left on the planet. “Hello out there’n computerland or wherever else you’re seein’ this at,” he says with a severe drawl in opening track “Stimey.” “We been tryin’ for over two years to cut a dang album” –– only two? –– “and this, that, and the other. … We went back to our crude-o ways … and this is what you get. You see what you get.”
And so it goes. For 11 tracks. Until the grand finale, “Hoogie Boogie Land.” Of course.
This is not good music, not by any stretch, but in your stack of “important” albums, Beginning of New Era should be on top. –– Steve Steward
Cody Culberson’s Carry the Blame
On his website, Fort Worth singer-songwriter Cody Culberson talks about memories of his grandfather singing along to old-school country icons like Marty Robbins. But on Carry the Blame, Culberson’s impressive five-song debut EP, he doesn’t waste much time trying to dust off classic crooners a la Kentucky neo-traditionalist Sturgill Simpson. Stylistically, Culberson is all over the contemporary roots-rock map, from Americana to honkytonk to radio-friendly country-pop. But his strong melodies and potent sense of lyrical detail keep these five songs firmly grounded and occasionally haunting.
Culberson’s vocal abilities may be relatively modest, but his instincts for interpreting a lyric are spot-on –– he knows how to diversify his nasally, breathy twang to register spite, heartbreak, and, perhaps most impressively, full-on romantic enthrallment. “The Wedding” sounds destined to become a getting-hitched standard. Culberson, in a tender whisper, offers a powerful ode to the tiny delights of lifelong monogamy over the splashy celebration of a big wedding. Over billowing acoustic guitar chords and shimmering synth notes, he declares that the real romance won’t begin until well after “there’s nothing in the fridge but the last piece of cake.”
Doing an emotional 180, Culberson’s delightful revenge tune, “Heart Like Mine,” is a hard-charging rocker that sounds like Petty’s Heartbreakers are not only backing him but egging him on as he maxes out the credit cards and trashes the property of a heedless ex.
On the lovely “Emily,” he partners with a doleful slide guitar, lamenting his status as “the ghost on the wall you forgot long ago,” making a convincing case for unrequited love as a kind of ongoing death.
The EP closes with the titular track, a quasi-gospel meditation with finely picked guitar notes in which Culberson declares with powerful restraint that if he turns out as nothing more than a thief and a beggar, he’ll bear his shame honestly.
Carry the Blame demonstrates this musician’s impressive ability to multi-task in various genres and moods but stay rooted in sheer, unassailable sincerity. –– Jimmy Fowler