Brett Netson Protests Just Enough With Simple Work for the Dead
LIKE THE OCCUPY movement, Built to Spill and Caustic Resin guitarist Brett Netson is mad as hell — and he’s got the meditative solo debut to prove it.
His swirling Simple Work for the Dead, released Tuesday by indie label The New Black, departs from the interlocking rock of his present band Built to Spill as well as the howling Black Sabbath homages of Caustic Resin to paint a picture of a dystopian American empire.
“Ever since deregulation of the Federal Communications Commission in the Clinton years, it’s been like all bets are off for anyone who doesn’t have a million dollars,” the Boise, Idaho-based Netson told Wired.com in an e-mail interview. “It feels like a super-slow-motion collapse into fascism. Driving around the country once or twice a year, I’ve really seen our culture morph into an infantile Nowhere Land.”
Netson has taken a much different sonic snapshot of that Nowhere Land than John Lennon took in The Beatles’ philosophical hit “Nowhere Man.”
Simple Work for the Dead‘s “God Is Wrong,” available at right as a free download, takes on the “godless waste” of America’s postmodern holy wars, which Netson characterizes as our “fundamentalist religion of brand management and fixed-market capitalism.”
Netson’s solo debut contains a cover of Bob Dylan’s immortal protest song “Masters of War” and builds upon the activist rage of Caustic Resin’s brilliant 2003 full-length Keep On Truckin, best represented by “The Wizard of the Upper Snake River” (watch the video below). He says he’s quite happy that the Occupy movement has helped unplug us from The Matrix and caught us up on currently disturbing events.
“I’ve been wishing for a populist movement, and here it is,” Netson said. “It’s not like the redneck enlightenment vision I had, but I’ll take it.”
But the Occupy movement’s struggle is only beginning, as infamously violent police tactics escalate in concert with the protests’ viral growth. It’s becoming increasingly clear that whether it is Egypt’s Tahrir Square or the University of California at Davis, the powers that be don’t seem exactly ready to cede power without a draconian fight.
“The law enforcement shenanigans are a sophisticated experiment,” said Netson. “They’re fucking playing around with us, and it is extremely disturbing. But public consensus is ultimately stronger than any power construct. It’s just a question of getting the powers to cooperate in a meaningful way.”
Realize, It’s Freedom: Caustic Resin’s Keep On Truckin
Caustic Resin’s Keep on Truckin can seriously fuck with your head. A pounding, balls-to-the-wall paean to the lost art of the guitar, it bears all the hallmarks of vintage AOR rock, albeit stretched (sometimes to the breaking point) out to the eight-minute mark. But you will, mark my words, never hear this heady stew on mainstream radio. You could also be forgiven for thinking that a release from these Idaho natives might sound like their kissing cousins, Built to Spill (Resin’s main man, Brett Nelson, moonlights as one of Doug Martsch’s guitarists). But there is Nelson, sounding eerily like the dangerous, Sabbath-era Ozzy on the thunderous “Wizard of the Upper Snake River”. The wall of wailing guitars that forms that song’s rhythmic layer might as well be sirens alerting you to the violent car crash that Keep on Truckin turns into on almost every song. The ghosts of Jimi Hendrix and Black Sabbath’s Paranoid lie next to Neil Young and Crazy Horse’s indulgent six-string work, which itself lies atop Built To Spill (circa their painful but rewarding Live album) and Jimmy Page’s toughest work from Physical Graffitti. Like I said, car crash.
But there’s a reason people slow down to watch these bloody messes on the freeway, even when they are in a major hurry to get somewhere. And that is because there’s something addictive about the sheer size and strength of the imagery, something painfully addictive about the impact it makes. This partially explains why I can’t stop listening to Keep on Truckin. For starters, Brett Nelson’s got king-size balls—the same ones Martsch showed on Built to Spill’s Live album—if only because he didn’t blink an eye when putting these songs together. They’re patently indulgent; half of Keep on Truckin‘s songs are about seven minutes long (the entire disc has only nine songs, while the finale, “8th St.”, is simply a filler tune) and the rest sound like they’re having a hard time sticking to five minutes or less. Which works fine, because like Nelson screams on the stream-of-consciousness masterpiece, “Drive #49”, “Realize, it’s freedom”. In other words, the nomadic spirit that infects every tune on Keep on Truckin is perfectly content with destroying guitars and eardrums while simply not giving a fuck what anyone thinks about rock convention.