Those Bastard Souls – Twentieth Century Chemical [reissue]

January 01, 1970



When the inaugural Those Bastard Souls album first surfaced
in 1996 it was utterly without fanfare, other than record label Darla servicing
it to the press, and, just to throw red herrings into the stew, presented as
the project of some otherwise unnamed, possibly Dutch, musicians who (a) were
fronted and co-produced by one “Will David”; and (b) cut its dozen tracks in
six studios scattered across Switzerland, the Netherlands, Germany, the Czech
Republic, London and Memphis. With cryptic, stream-of-consciousness liner notes
detailing a series of misadventures in Nijmegen, Holland, and a rather
anonymous-looking band photo more suggestive of a ‘60s garage outfit than a
‘90s group of alt-rockers, there wasn’t much to go on. In fact, the only real
clues were the listing of Easley Studio for the Memphis sessions and a song bearing the
vaguely familiar title “Subterranean Death Ride Blues, Pt.2.”


Well, that and the singer’s voice.


After a couple of listens it was pretty apparent that Those
Bastard Souls was actually a front operation for Dave Shouse, one-quarter of
Memphis’ beloved Grifters, who at the time were on Sub Pop and would issue their
final album, Full Blown Possession,
the following year. The Grifters, of course, were regulars at Easley Studio;
and though somewhat obscure, the tune “Subterranean Death Ride Blues” was the B-side
of a limited edition Grifters 45. (For those really in the Grifters loop, the name “Those Bastard Souls”
might’ve seemed familiar too: it was one of several proposed monikers the group
had considered prior to changing from A Band Called Bud to the Grifters.)


Following a bizarre instrumental opening montage doubling as
theme music (“Introducing Those Bastard Souls”), Twentieth Century Chemical kicks in mightily with the glam-slam,
swaggering Bowie/Bolan pastiche “These Things Will Slay You Every Time.” That’s
immediately followed by the druggy, whorling “Curious State
I’m In” (imagine the Flaming Lips backing John Lennon); another Lennonesque
number, the piano-and-fuzz guitar “SDRB Pt.2”; and the warped,
synth/sax-strafed psychotic blooze of “The Train From Terminal Boredom.” The
rest of the album zips past in a hallucinogenic haze, with everything from
backwards-instruments skronk, motorik-tilting
Krautrock, Beatlesque pop and Guided By Voices-styled lo-fi finding their way
into the mix; the overall vibe is glammy, a muse Shouse would return to
frequently over the years to come, but the album is really so all-over-the-map,
laden with depth-charge sound effects, woozy vocals and random explosive riffs,
as to be genreless. What, after all, to make of the bastardized Bo Diddley
beat, distorted blues guitar and neo-Tom Waits vocal rant comprising the
wonderfully-titled “The Top Ten Zen Offenders”?


Seven bonus tracks append this reissue of the album. Notable
among them is a 4-track demo for “Spaced Out,” a noisy slice of psychedelic
balladry that wound up being recorded by both the Grifters (for Full Blown Possession) and Those Bastard
Souls Mk. II (on 1999’s Debt and
); and a gorgeous, mostly acoustic countryish number called “The
Coldwater Freak Show” that, minus any effects draping Shouse’s vocal, reveals a
heretofore unglimpsed (up to this point in time, at least) sensitive side to
the singer.


TBS lasted until 2001 and at various points included in the
lineup the likes of Stan Gallimore (Grifters), Steven Drozd (Flaming Lips) Joan
Wasser (Dambuilders/Joan As Police Woman) and Fred Armisen (Trenchmouth, future
Saturday Night Live cast member). The
version I saw live in 1999 had just completed the second album and featured
Wasser on violin, the Dambuilders’ Kevin March on drums, former Jeff Buckley
band guitarist Michael Tighe, and bassist Matt Fields from Red Red Meat. After
TBS folded, Shouse went on to other projects, notably the Bloodthirsty Lovers,
and he’s never been less than fascinating as a songwriter and artist.


Twentieth Century
, though, remains one of the essential Shouse artifacts. The
addition of the bonus material and new, non-anonymous liner notes from Shouse
makes for icing on the cake.


“I decided that fiction would trump reality,” Shouse explains,
of the original CD’s cryptic presentation, adding that since at the time he was
also occupied with the Grifters and the Sub Pop deal he had “little or no
expectation for it commercially or as the catalyst for live shows.” Luckily it was such a catalyst, and for those of us
who fondly remember Those Bastard Souls, the memories just got fonder. Dave, if
you’re reading this: you’re still one of my favorite bastards.


Standout Tracks: “Curious State I’m In,” “These Things Will Slay
You Every Time,” “The Coldwater Freak Show” FRED MILLS




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