Monday, July 28, 2014

Bad Blood, Good Blood

Bad Blood, Good Blood cover art

Although the Secret Beach has lapsed into a state of well-earned dormancy, I thought I'd pop in briefly for a bit of musical proselytizing; not a lot has moved me lately, musically speaking, and when something does I want to Tell the World. The last time I was on my soapbox hyping Spenking (Spencer Kingman to his mother), a self-released CD-R titled Free Doom had recently been pirated my way, carrying an aura of mystery and intrigue. The one-time Chicagoan, occasional indie-rock sideman (I'd been lucky enough to see him tear the stage to pieces with a young Dirty Projectors) and quietly brilliant singer-songwriter was, reportedly, newly married and living in Utah. I confess to having fed the rumor-mill, speculating here on the Secret Beach that he'd gone Mormon, that he'd had to smuggle this collection of dark, dense songs out of Utah as if on golden tablets.

Half a decade has transpired since then, and much of the mystery has been dispelled concerning Spencer Kingman the man. He's been living on the outskirts of Pittsburgh for several years, is the father of two young children, and teaches high school math; none of which begins to diminish the ongoing mystery of Spenking the artist, whose latest offering is his most public to date, released this spring on Ethereal Sequence, distributed by Drag City and sure to blow some minds. Much of the material on Bad Blood, Good Blood is culled from the aformentioned Free Doom--finally those golden tablets have found the light of day, comprising all of side one and a bit of side two. But the four new songs, radiant and otherworldly, are the real revelation here, and well worth the wait; while he might not have much time for touring or recording these days, these few transmissions make clear that suburban family life has done nothing to tame Spencer's febrile imagination.

Spare, haunting and unusual for Spenking in its use of electronics, Soda Spill lurches through the shopping-center landscape of middle America. Concrete islands, monumental signage, big flourescent words--it's a place we all know well. But soon the familiar images begin to melt; suddenly we ooze out of our sense of self  and are frying on the blacktop. What to make of the shapeshifting grass, inside-out apartments and soda-spill machines? More alarmingly, where are all the shoppers? Nowhere any people, Spenking concludes, sounding a bit like Laurie Anderson, stripped of her ironic pose, facing down the void. The remaining songs are less of a departure, more classically Spenking--graceful guitar-plucking, effortlessly acrobatic melodies and profoundly disorienting lyrics. I cut my eyes on a brand new magazine, Spencer announces on Hot Omen, channeling Buñuel; the lilting Gravel Scrabble finds our hero swimming in a shallow orbit / floating magnets spin around the room at full zoom/Gamma rays pass right through, full moon--all reeled off so prettily that the dizzying language sinks in only as an afterthought. Here We Are seems to ease us back toward earth with its easy, pastoral melody, but the eerie portents remain, evoking weird, nocturnal worlds behind the domestic scrim. Ball of ice divides the house, Spencer sings. The fires around the couch.  

The last time I wrote about Spenking, he was so unknown, and I was such an ardent booster, that I promised to mail any reader who asked a bootleg CD-R free of charge. With this long-overdue release I can finally rescind that offer, and instead direct discerning music-lovers here, here and here--and hope that, with a sufficient groundswell of interest, Spencer might cough up another round before the decade's through. 

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