The Great Sadness Makes a Great Noise

Indie records arrive more often than you might imagine from musicians giving vinyl a shot at reaching a new audience and possibly providing an additional revenue stream (though as most find out, it’s neither cheap nor easy). Unfortunately, vinyl doesn’t transform lackluster into exceptional music.

The Great Sadness sent their debut album a few weeks ago pressed on white two-tone vinyl in an unusually attractive gatefold package. Mad Magazine fans might get a “Spy versus Spy” vibe from the cover art that appeared to be a negotiation between two masked individuals dressed all in white, hands on a table. My takeaway from the jacket was that someone with a strong visual sense was behind it (though the writing on the spine is upside down).

The inner gatefold illustration rife with images of aliens, skulls, cycloptic nightmares (including one with a unicorn’s horn, legs spread revealing a “landing patch” shaved vagina) and the angel of death wielding an impossibly long, unfurled flag that wraps around a bright red “nerve” that ends surrounding a sword plunged into another skull.

I’m better deciphering lyrics than imagery but the gatefold reminded me of the doodlings made by my post-college roommate who subsisted on Chip-Ahoys and Window Pane acid.

But of course it’s the music that counts. All hell broke loose when I put this record on the turntable and lowered the needle. The duo of Cathy Cooper (guitar/vocals) and drummer Stephen McNeely produces a raw, bluesy, hard-edged sound that’s in short supply in today’s hipster, shoe-gazy, super sensitive and mostly incredibly boring musical milieu.

My first reaction aside from digging firmly into the groove was that this duo was like a role-reversed The White Stripes with the singer/guitarist female and the drummer male. The publicity blurb doesn’t refer to The Stripes but rather to both groups’ Delta and electric blues antecedents and The Great Sadness’s Birthday Party influences.

But forget influences. The Great Sadness is a power duo that delivers the hard-edged goods with a long missing musical ferocity driven by black, bleak lyrics of death, murder, mayhem and delightful darkness anchored by Ms. Cooper’s intense, yet super-controlled banshee wails. Cooper makes prime time Chrissie Hynde sound kind of meek.

Cooper convincingly sells her anger and darkness so that what could sound like pure hokum works well, especially backed by Mr. McNeely’s powerful percussive blasts. When in the song “Blind” Cooper sings “Come with me to the other side”, she makes it sound kind of enticing, much as Joni Mitchell did for Heroin (and death) in “Cold Blue Steel”. All of the songs have one word titles: “Enough”, “Blind”, “Deserter”, “Birdman”, “Tonight”, “Desperate”,”Never”, “Wonderland”, “Suicide” and “Underground”. The darkness never lets up (other than when you have to get up and turn the record over), but this duo knows how to leave empty spaces to fill with hardcore punctuations that bring to mind early Led Zep as much as delta blues.

So who are these two? The press blurb says Cathy Cooper grew up in Orange County and moved to L.A. after graduating from Cal State Long Beach after which she painted, wrote music and did performance art. She played guitar in various bands, hooking up with Aurora, Colorado native McNeely in 2011 via his sister Nina who at the time was in a dance performance group with Cooper called WIFE.

I did some more online snooping and came up with some amazing Cathy Cooper bio information. She’s way playing down who she is and what she’s been doing over the years, which is fairly astonishing beginning with that she’s 58 years old. Wow! She’s got the powerful pipes of an adolescent and an equally energized worldview (I can relate and I have 13 years on her!). But there’s so much more in her background as costume and wardrobe designer including for the L.A. Philharmonic’s ballet production of “The Firebird”. She’s done same in movies and advertising as well as for music videos. And she’s done major and indie label album cover art.

So how she finds time for this kind of self-produced project beats me, but I’m glad she did and doubly glad the record arrived in my mailbox.

With the group’s permission I digitized the song “Birdman” and put it on the AnalogPlanet YouTube channel not sure how subscribers would react. It’s actually pretty well recorded with the distortion the result of the guitar effects not the recording itself. There are moments of reflective quiet that demonstrate the production’s nearly monophonic cleanliness. The website says you get a download card with your purchase for both MP3 and high quality FLAC file that the promo copy did not include.

Incredibly, as I write this, the video has gotten 1,176 views with 36 “thumb’s ups” and 0 “thumb’s downs”. That’s a first on the AnalogPlanet’s YouTube channel!

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madoco's picture

Wow-that's cool. As you said White Stripish. Not quite a power duo but does anyone remember Timbuk 3, Two people making the sound of 3 or 4