The first in a series spotlighting certain under-appreciated albums.
Calla’s Scavengers (2001) left a permanent impression on me the first time I heard it. It’s not epic, it’s not life affirming, it’s not anything that people would like to call ‘classic,’ and that’s okay: it doesn’t need to be. Instead, it’s a very good album that I caught at the right place at the right time…
Secluded near the television in-between bouts of homework, I was with a lonely college boy’s best friend (or was it just mine?) – Knights of the Old Republic on the xBox. All by myself in the basement, I spent the Friday evening wielding a lightsaber while downing a bag of Cheetos and drinking Dr. Pepper. My brain cells cooked as my muscles rotted.
When such things are done out of necessity rather than convenience, there is a certain attitude life’s necessary soundtrack must take… By no means one of joy, but not one of despair either. No, such a state is voluntary, though not desirable. It’s a feeling of willing self-depreciation, taking joy in your wasting away. Scavengers hits those notes perfectly.
It’s easy to stare your vision into blurry focus when the country-twang guitar solo descends into hazy feedback and background noise on “Traffic Sound.” It’s like the solo’s Lone Ranger just died in a heroic rescue attempt, but the listener is still vegetating. Other such buildups are thwarted during the listen as well, but the debauchery of “Traffic Sound” is probably the most affecting. The album, being full of such moments, doesn’t want you to get up and do something with your life; it just wants you to get up for another beer. For example, the most upbeat song on the album, “Slum Creeper,” buries what, in another life, may be a dance guitar riff under a deep, lazy bass line determined to keep up its slow pace. Even when the song builds, it does so into deafening noise instead of a stadium cheer. It’s as if the music is yelling at you: “Sit down!”
It’s not until the beautiful closer, a cover of U2’s “Promenade”, that Calla give up the bleak outlook. The song, though it didn’t make much sense on The Unforgettable Fire (U2’s best album, by the way), works perfectly here, capturing the simple beauty of an everyday situation. Listen, it says, enjoy your moments: not just the happy ones, but the sad ones too. It’s all life; each moment has its own importance and significance, take it all in and appreciate it. And then you start to feel better.
So, that’s the desired affect; that’s what makes it so good. So what’s it sound like exactly? Like a cowboy riding the New York subway at 3:00 a.m. Calla uses Texas guitars (with twang, echo, and vibrato) to accent songs rooted with pummeling bass and electronic textures. At times, it seems a bit creepy-crawly (there is a bug on the album cover, after all), and every sound is liable to get engulfed in the haze of the feedback hovering through the album like an apparition. In the right circumstances, listening to Scavengers could make your spine shiver in fright. But most of you probably wouldn’t listen to this while reading Kafka in a low-lit room (don’t do it, trust me).
Of course, I’m not telling you to give Scavengers a try just because there isn’t a lot out there with its particular shade of melancholy. I’m telling you to try it because it’s so good it just may own your soul. Or at least comfort it.