Monday, May 28, 2012

FLASHBACK: Leather Hyman

I spent part of yesterday listening to Leather Hyman's debut album, Host Body. I think it's held up quite well over time, both musically and lyrically. They were a fairly tight unit in the 90s indy/alt scene in L.A., and it's too bad they didn't receive the recognition they deserved. The production by Russian stadium rocker Val Gaina is fairly light and poppy in places, which I think contrasts nicely with the usually darker lyrics. I am given to understand that the group wasn't entirely happy with the pop direction, and self-produced their next two albums, Sunshine and Other Forms of Radiation and Dance Class Revolution, with the help of Steve Gregoropoulos of W.A.C.O.

The album starts off with Million Dollar world, which, while being alright, isn't one of their stronger songs. Next up is Away, which combines spacey guitar and viola with an elfin voice provided by Heather Lockie. There's some nice rhythm, including some driving drum sections by John whatsisname.

Frank follows, starting softly then building in intensity and interspersed with some sweet minor key guitar riffs from Lyman Chafee that vaguely reminds me of The second part of Clapton's Layla. It is a song of disillusioned innocence. There's strength in it, too, demonstrated by the lyrics: Poison generally makes you stronger/ either that or puts you down/ nothing's worth putting me down.

Track 4 is pussy, a light meditation on pets, meat, the cycle of life, and oral sex. Both the viola laden music and lyrics are great fun, especially Lyman's solo bits.

Girlfriend, track 5, is grungy and sensuous, tasty. Again, lyrics are striking and humorous: You won't leave when I ask/ do you understand English?/ I want to go to sleep for instance/ maybe I'm not articulating/ soon im going to kill you/ (scream of rage and frustration).

Next up is Trunk, a parable of female empowerment told from the male point of view. Sample lyrics: Do you remember when you had no legs?/ I liked you better then/ you lay on my back and I carried your weight/ I liked you better then/ but now you've got your own pair of legs/ supple and rippled and stronger than steel/ they carry you everywhere you want to go/ I liked you better then. I sort of recall at the time that the ironic nature of the song escaped a few people, and it had to be explained to them.

The following song, Steve McQueen is perhaps the most fun on the entire album. It is a celebration of the many roles played by Steve McQueen and the actor's overall bitchin' nature (remember when "bitchin'" was a common adjective?). Also, the organ is totally bitchin'. As far as I am concerned, there is no greater memorial to Steve McQueen.

Great, track 8, is OK. It's got nice bits, some nice bass lines from Pablo Garcia, but it just doesn't hold my attention like most of the other material on Host Body.

The wah wah magic of Rake also features some great background electronic effects from Garcia. (Garcia plays a more supporting role through much of this album, but his talent would really come to the fore in the next one, Sunshine and Other Forms of Radiation.) If I recall correctly, the song was inspired by a documentary on a young woman who had her back covered with a tattoo of angle wings. Either that, or I saw the documentary at roughly the same time. Regardless, the song and the doc are intertwined in my mind.

Imagine if the members of the VU went to Occidental College. That's the song Rake. It's beautiful. There's an undertone of C/W, but a New Yorky rendition, like The Stones playing Girl with Faraway Eyes rather than anything by The Eagles. "You kept me warm and dry." and "You were laughing with desperate joy."

The frenetic pace of Ritalin perfectly captures . . . taking Ritalin. What did you think I was going to say? For those too young to remember, or not born yet: Kids, we used to take a lot of drugs. Some of us more than others, and someone of us ended up in rehab, where we learned we were powerless over drugs, etc., and we wore turnips in our belts. Ritalin was a common study aid in school. So I don't know if you can relate to this song. Well maybe to the lyric, "I hope I die when I get old." That's pretty much timeless.

I mentioned The Velvet Underground a moment ago, and it wasn't by accident. Ritalin is followed by a very nice cover of All Tomorrow's Parties. It's a spacey and haunting rendition revealing the band's love of VU. Definitely worth a listen.

Last but not least is the title track, Host Body. The song is based on the aphid scene in Philip K. Dick's Scanner Darkly, but takes a slightly different tack, celebrating the symbiotic nature of our bodily environment. A heavy driving guitar and driving drumbeat underlie the partnership between paramecium and man. A spry coda recounts how "life begins again" after aphids have burrowed deep, layed eggs inside of us, hatched, and have begun to eat.

If you've read this far, thanks for participating in my nostalgia. I went to college with the members of Leather Hyman that perform on this album,and was good friends with Lyman and Heather. Pablo was not only a good friend, but a roommate for a period. I miss Leather Hyman and I miss my friends.


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