Guzzlemug. When I first heard the name, my mind ran wild with what it might describe. Guzzlemug. A tertiary character in the world of Harry Potter? Nope. Some newfangled slang meant to describe and depict a grumpy or lazy person? Try again. Another silly sex act recently added to that wonder of wonders, the Urban Dictionary? C’mon. And it’s not an old drinking game with a clever new twist, either. Or a synonym for knick-knack, doo-dad, or whatchamacallit. It’s not even a puppet that shared the screen with Jim Henson and David Bowie back in 1986.
Guzzlemug is Metal-flavored Math-Jazz—lively, theatrical, and unafraid of being bizarre—which means they are in fact a band, but you knew that.
Shane Prendiville (Guitars, Guitar Synths, Vocals), Tom Kelly (Bass, Vocals, Trumpet), and Charlie Werber (Drums, Percussion) originally released their single-song EP “Nervously Counting Rosary Beads” independently back in September of 2012. In light of a recent limited vinyl re-release, ThisIsNotAScene got our paws and ears on it for a listen.
The song opens with multi-tracked choral a capella vocals from guests Nasimiyu Murumba and Kristen Stoeckeler. Guitar and bass enter mimicking bagpipes huffing and puffing a funeral dirge or a hurdy gurdy cranking out droning French Rococo music: It is a sleep-deprived symphony tuning up. There is a brief return to choralist accompaniment behind Prendiville and Kelly’s ritualistic howling and the crashing, cacophonous waves of Werber’s snare and cymbals before the inception of the second and largest movement.
While it may be something of an endurance test for those acclimated to verse-chorus forms and digestible, radio-format lengths, there is a gradual-but-definite undercurrent in the first half of this twenty-nine minute monster that says, “Something is coming.” Texturally, the kitchen sink plus a garage sale has been thrown in to tell us this: Squeaky pick sliding and fretting noise. Middle-Eastern-inspired ululating voices. Grating horror-picture violins (from other guest musician Sara Pajumen). Bowel-challenging distortion and amp buzz. Jazzy hi-hat rolls and tom one-hits. Bass rumbling bordering on the subsonic. Something is Coming. Imagine “The Jaws Theme” as composed by John Zorn or Ennio Morricone. A Melvins-esque slow-crawl jam followed by a thrashing reprise of the pastoral mood that sounds this time like a crooked televangelist getting his ass kicked serves as declaration that soon I’ll get to see the shark.
Just as the beating settles down to quietly pinched and echoed single notes and retreating cymbal hiss, a sudden spew of electric and acoustic vomit rises up from the gorge of near-silence and begins about five minutes of what is essentially “Mr. Bungle & Steve Vai Orchestrate Forest Chase Scenes from The Evil Dead” with Kelly and Prendiville’s best vocal work in the midst of it (See Vai’s “And Now We Run” from the PCU soundtrack for further reference…). Frankly, I loved this section and couldn’t help pulling the bar back a few times. It’s a well-timed, crucial contrast to the slow and savored eccentricity of the first half.
My only gripe with Guzzlemug and “Nervously Counting”—kind of a big one, though—is that the track didn’t seem to know when or how to end. Remember: We’re sans tugboat and harpoon. We’ve seen the fin and the dark eyes, the rows of arrowhead teeth. And we still have about nine more minutes in the water with the beast….
Charlie Werber’s excellent fourth-movement snare/ride cymbal ostinato and the inquisitive 7/8 guitar line felt like a natural place to fade out. The crooned vocal plea, “Let us…let you go…” was, to me, something of an extra tease. Yet, in the remaining five minutes, there were many seemingly disjointed pieces, as if the band was suffering from an overabundance of ideas and running out of space: trumpet and jangly strummed chords over samples spoken in Latin; a reprise of the heavy, slow jam from section two; textural amplifier and pedal noises; and finally, near-silence fading in to violins which then themselves fade.
The long song form is tricky. While some artists known for marathon-length opuses—like Frank Zappa or The Mars Volta—seem to have cracked the code to keeping things fresh regardless, all musicians can do at any duration is to write and perform what keeps them interested and hope that listeners dig it, too. Guzzlemug appear to be doing this. And certainly, cut this creature open and “Nervously Counting Rosary Beads” has some musically interesting—although sometimes disparate—elements going on in its guts.
On the whole, I enjoyed it. It’s got me wanting to hunt for dusty discs in my old CD binder or probe the depths of iTunes for other acts. Still, as much as I’d like to experience these guys in a live setting and see what’s different or how others might respond, I’m haunted by an image from venue-crawling days: I see an audience full of guys drooling over gear and virtuosity, their heads bobbing in time while girlfriends stand beside them, waiting. Wondering and waiting. Or texting. Or checking the web to see if it actually is that House Elf or Goblin from Book Four that the band is named after….