Before the neighborhoods are all plowed under and paved over, before we lose the last of the great ugly dives that were once thronged in mundane and triumphant celebration, before whatever’s next feasts on what came before—can we have a moment? Just a moment to loll without shame in our fevered, impotent nostalgia. Change is good but amnesia isn’t, and Seattle, the fastest-growing big city in America, is built from a million brutal histories left out of the prime-time storyline.
The new songs from the Murder City Devils—their first in 13 years—offer opportunity for sour reminiscence. Here’s a band that surfaced like a rotten corpse to bob around Seattle’s murky, late-’90s alt-rock scene for five years and three full-length albums before dissolving in 2001. They toured nationally with the likes of Pearl Jam and At the Drive-in but were primarily a Seattle phenomenon. They embodied a discreet moment in the city’s trajectory, after mainstream media gave up on spotlighting grunge and a more menacing subculture festered in the shadows. Today their contingency remains artistically inclined, erstwhile-punk 30-somethings in the throes of getting older: the ones reminiscing. The ones staying put rather than fleeing to Bothell or Kent or someplace worse.
Like Los Angeles, for instance, where three of of MCD’s current sextet have lived the last few years. (And where the album was recorded—San Pedro, specifically). The anxiety of displacement infuses the 25 hectic minutes of The White Ghost Has Blood on Its Hands Again, starting with the first song’s first words: “Last of the old-school gentrifiers/Return of the white fliers/book bag pale disguisers/artsy justifiers.” Man, that’s harsh! And spot-on—a strong cocktail of accusation and confession, guilt and loathing. Welcome to Seattle by way of Southern California.
Further declarations of ambivalence come in song-title form: “Cruelty Abounds,” “Not Everybody Gets a Good Time,” “Non-Participation.” Spencer Moody doesn’t sing so much as he gargles gravel with a voice scorched by bile—possibly the literal kind. He delivers every line of each of these songs with a traumatic inflection, inflicting trauma. The band slows “Old Flame” and “Playboy” to a wallowing, excruciating pace. We wish for catharsis, project it whether or not it exists. Instead we get the closer, “Don’t Worry,” wherein Moody spits out the frog in his throat and warbles the titular words like a schoolboy.
Throughout, Dann Gallucci’s guitar brawls with Leslie Hardy’s keys for instrumental supremacy. Ultimately it’s Hardy’s woozy wail that nudges these songs from gutter-punk grind into moodier territory, most notably on “Pale Disguise,” the album’s towering lead single and most emphatic call to arms.
Moody cites Neil Diamond—“I am I said/I am I cried”—before arriving at the emotional core of the album: “Here stands the asshole/who dreamed of shitting gold.” An urban Quixote, a victim and a hero.
The city transforms. Some spur that transformation. Others fight it, hoping to draw a line in the sand, to hang on to halcyon history, to resist the big, dark unknown. But hanging on—that’s just a dream.
The Murder City Devils
The White Ghost Has Blood on Its Hands Again