Do We Ask Too Much Of Buck 65?
Stop giving us free music, oh great one.
Don't look at me like that. If you have been following Mr. 65's new Dirtywork series of weekly free downloads at myspace.com/buck65, and you downloaded the third and latest offering on Monday, "Death of Me," a barely audible and very awkward poem-plus-cheap-drum-bloops, I'll bet hard Canadian dollars you thought the title was a joke about his songwriting mortality. The "tune" is pretty contemptuous for a trustworthy artist who made two the decade's best works of art (Talkin' Honky Blues and Secret House Against The World, both Canada-only, both astonishing) and calls his new premature work period "unexpectedly fruitful." Fuck, I believed the guy when he unleashed the first taste of Dirtywork, the instant classic "Indestructible Sam," which exemplifies everything great about this country-rap-pastiche icon: uptempo rapping over lively banjo-folk about the tall tale of some guy from the days of railroad that some gangsters tried to kill several different ways and times and always escaped and showed up for the work the next day. The song is unbelievable fun, evocative of spaghetti westerns and recent Decemberists folktales and Wiley E. Coyote cartoons all at once, with Buck's inscrutable cool and gruff drive putting the tune into gear. I hope it becomes the live staple it deserves.
Then the so-so "Days on End" was released, a kind of treading-water trip-hop track that inoffensively goes nowhere. But after "Death of Me," I'm wondering whether my expectations are too high for what's basically bonus music, the kind of realm only outtakes and b-side experiments go to, stuff not worth paying for but worth the gander for free. Assuming the rest of Dirtywork goes the way of "Death of Me," I'll award it the choice cut it deserves for "Indestructible Sam." But is it even fair to stick the miss in Buck's canon? I feel conflicted. The tracks are obviously toss-offs that aren't valuable enough for real albums, but he's generously trying to keep something on the conveyor belt, which once in awhile awards a great lost novelty like "Sam." I don't want to punish Buck's reasonably consistent 2001-2006 output with a stain like that, but is a release a release?
I've been digging little gifts that great bands have awarded me as MySpace exclusives: The Hold Steady's Ac/Dc-charged "Hot Fries" and the egregiously undownloadable cover of Sonic Youth's "Bull In The Heather" by The Go! Team certainly beat most outtake/compilation cut ephemera. iTunes has alot of exclusive prizes too, most recently The Decemberists' delicious "Culling of the Fold," a murderously fun Crane Wife leftoff that beats just about anything on the album itself. And great bands have made histories of fan favorites that are far too transcedently insane for the burden of album sequening, most notably Clem Snide's touching and hilarious "Mike Kalinsky," about an asthmatic Joy Division fan you likely went to high school with, and The Dismemberment Plan's nomination for Song of the Decade, "The Dismemberment Plan Gets Rich," an intentional "B.O.B." for indie-rock that gets by in hyperactive double-time with bobbing bass, whizbang sound effects and barely sensical lyrics about the band's fictional megalomaniacal Wall Street takeover, a riot that doesn't exclude prank-calling John Gotti, getting tips about Ginger Ale companies in Canada and getting caught aboard a boat with seven tons of opium (their response: "Color us embarassed!"). On the 2001 Juno & The Dismemberment Plan split EP, the bread in a forgettable Juno sandwich is the B-Side of the Decade, "Crush," a cover of the now-obscure one-hit wonder Jennifer Paige's actually kinda-great 1998 Billboard hit. They fuck it in the ass sideways and turn a salacious, winking disco stomp into a creepy indie-stalker's lament as a six-minute Death Cab dirge. Genius. Too bad the genius doesn't apply to Juno's "Non-Equivalents" or their "ironic" cover, an all-live instrument take on DJ Shadow's "High Noon" (bad choice, they could've at least had the taste to pillage Endtroducing. . . . ). But "Crush" and "Gets Rich" could've never been album cuts so it's best their home doesn't even try to maintain consistency. So I could either lament the fact that two of the Plan's best performances live in a halfway house or I could praise Mount Thurstonmoore for their existence at all.
I guess I feel the same way about "Indestructible Sam," which Buck hits out of the park for no reason other than to indulge his wayward muse. If the remaining two songs of his five-part gift to fans don't live up to it, it'll be enough until the next album, which itself may not have a killer like Secret House's "The Floor" or Blues' "Roses And Blue Jays." It most likely won't have a "The Centaur" so I'm not kidding myself. But I'll take what I can get and worry about the canon when I'm dead. Bands like They Might Be Giants never had much use for it anyway, they just make as much output as they can and let the fans sieve through for their own favorites. But even though I won't bite the hand that feeds me "Indestructible Sam" (or "Protest" or "Out of Focus" or "Devil's Eyes"), it's a little jarring to hear such a naked and unborn piece of crap like "Death of Me" see its way into the world too early (or at all). Better luck next week, Buck.