Buck 65

Secret House Against The World

(Warner; 2005)

By Aaron Newell | 18 October 2007

Fun facts about Buck 65:

He once provided the voice for “rapping Elmo” on Sesame Street.

Biz Markie once jacked one of his breaks.

Buck was drafted by the New York Yankees, but blew out his knee, ruining any chance he may have had at a pro baseball career.

Buck turned down a series of New York gigs opening for The Strokes at the height of their (second) buzz. He was about to embark on his first major tour of Australia, and, basically, just really wanted to see what Australia was like.

While in Australia, Terfry arranged with alternative rock radio station Triple-JJJ to record a story, once a month, to be played during a “Buck 65 Story Time” segment during the first weekend of every month.

He used to repair BMX bikes for fun.

He has been known to make his own modifications to the crossfaders on his mixers.

Before Talking Honky Blues and even Square (Rich’s actual Warner debut), he was called backstage at a Radiohead gig in Montreal. Apparently, after finding out that Buck 65 was in the audience, longtime fan Thom Yorke requested an introduction.

Warner Music Canada re-released (nearly) the entirety of Rich’s Language Arts series (Weirdo Magnet, the incredible Vertex, the originally Anticon-released Man Overboard, and Synesthesia) as part of the contract that eventually spurned his “breakthrough” (i.e. “charting”) album Talkin Honky Blues, as well as his new release Secret House Against the World. BONUS: Fun opinion about Buck 65: while Warner Canada has done some off-handedly great things in the past, digitally reissuing the straight-to-four-track dust-bin hip hop equivalent to Twin Peaks (Vertex) as well as what was originally a tour-only disc (Synesthesia) completely repackaged with new artwork commissioned from pencil-geek NAME OF ARTIST, as part of a running series of works by a then sampler-bound turntablist who rapped about repairing BMX bikes, blow-up dolls, and baseball injuries in the same breath, was pretty fucking sweet in and of itself.

A cute little song called “The F-Word” appears on Synesthesia. Rich states “when I hear one of my old songs with the f-word I cringe now,” and swears off swearing on all subsequent albums.

A fantastic terrorific proggy krautrock elephant stampede / Gainsbourgian nosebleed of a song called “le 65isme” appears on Secret House Against the World. Rich states “I’ll teach these fuckers how to dance modern,” marking his first f-word on record since “The F-Word.”

Buck’s “cult” fans that grew up on Weirdo Magnet, his related 12”’s (see “Wildlife”), and Sebutones material will probably cry “Foul!” at Rich’s regained potty-mouth, given their cute feelings (hey, me too) of betrayal stemming from Rich’s thorny remarks in Kerrang! Magazine last year (essentially: “I’ve outgrown hip hop, so hip hop fuck off”). Also offensive to long time loyals: 1) the “marketable,” tweaked versions of some of Rich’s more classic songs that made up the bulk of his V2 US debut This Right Here is Buck 65 (the truth of that release’s title still being debated today); 2) the fact that he’s abandoned the decks on Secret House altogether, leaving the tables to capable Invisibl Skratch Piklz/sometimes Beat Junkie D-Styles; 3) his wife, Claire Berest, singing back-up on most of the new album’s songs; and 4) the borderline Fatboy Slim vs. Prodigy track on Secret House that is also the album’s lead single (“Kennedy Killed the Hat”) where Rich gets his Iggy Pop on in the video.

Buck’s “cult” fans that grew up on Weirdo Magnet, his related 12”’s (see “Wildlife”) and Sebutones material will probably also, depending on their mood, be quite happy to see that: 1) Buck is prepared to eat his own cuss words on record when it works in context, because speaking in absolutes is silly most of the time anyway; 2) the new material on Secret House did not follow This Right Here’s hokey, immature, teen-baiting lead (we’re talking “Big Trucks” and “Talkin Fishin Blues”), and is not the mortally-feared, pure pop album we’ve been holding in our pee about for the past seven months; 3) his wife, Claire Berest, a) (sorry for the subsections) has chops to the effect that b) she can sing verrrrrrrrrry sweetly, so much so that c) she steals the show on the otherwise impressively boring and therefore aptly-named “The Suffering Machine,” and d) can also sound sexy as l’enfer with her Parisienne self, quite intentionally reminiscent of any number of attractive Gainsbourg collaborators when she says things like “Let’s make dirty babies until zee morning” (“Drawing Curtains”); and 4) “Kennedy Killed the Hat” is actually a p’tit, ironic harangue against “the scene” that it prima facie appears to buy into, a scene that will take E and jump up and down and grope itself to it, which really just makes it another one of the many toying-with-the-audience tricks up Rich’s much-embroidered sleeve anyway. And we love him for that, don’t we, cute, betrayed fans?

C’mon now. “Kennedy” is also something you can take E and get groped to without feeling like a complete Daft-Punk-worshipping twat. So thank the man. Whose tongue is that in your cheek, anyway? When Rich sings in his best Paul Banks, “Clear is the new black / Artistes and Models / Let’s go to hell together” --- and complainants note that the lyrics read so much wittier than they sound --- perhaps all complainants are simply suckers for the buzzy club-junk (“clunk”?) context, the obvious “lead singleness” of it all, and overlook the sour center for the candy coating.

I mean, c’mon now. He emphasizes the shit out the tEEst in “artistes.” Interpol sold Antics using art spaces. Better eat your bread crumbs.

Even the stale, dry ones, years beyond crouton. There are four songs on Secret House that are all actually just cave-painted versions of one massive, Platonic meta-song that will never be achieved. The boresome foursome of “Roughouse Blues,” “The Suffering Machine” (I’ve nicknamed that one “Umbrella Statement”), “Blood of a Young Wolf” (by far the best of the lot, as it is actually quite fantastic) and “Drunk Without Drinking” (pretty much caca) all generally militate against Terfry’s development as an artist. Why?

These are the dog/hotel/sad lonely deviant/highway/truck songs. Willie Cash in a handbasket. They document the inactivities of one boring, sad, lonely deviant who is perpetually on the road, traveling, yet can’t meet anyone except one married woman, to whom he sells some encyclopedias, and who therefore obviously has an encyclopedia fetish, or why else would she have cheated on her husband with the boring, sad, lonely deviant who doesn’t have the social skills to make any friends while perpetually being on the road (“Drunk Without Drinking”)? Why is Rich’s “series” of character songs (you can identify these by their sweeping reliance on slide guitars and troubadour strummery and slow, brushy drums and many, many words that end in sighs instead of letters) bad for him? Each of these (save “Wolf,” which is why it’s so damn good) obscure the Buck 65 personality/morality/unique wit that shines through on every last one of the album’s other songs (even the tacky vocodered hyper-franc Napolean-march “Devil’s Eyes” that he didn’t even write but which still infers some interesting things about being a slut).

Rich has such a massive, dedicated, and persnickety cult following because he’ll tackle silly social constructs, break their femurs, and pee on them. He’s abandoned cocaine-using friends (“Pants on Fire”), he glorifies the philosopher shoe-shiner (“Craftmanship”), he’s consistently intimidatingly honest and confessional (see his ode to his mother’s passing, on Man Overboard), and he’ll spit in his own audience’s face if it will shake them out of misguided prejudices (“The Centaur,” “Stella”). He’s even gone on record as hating rollerbladers, an inherent aspect of the human condition that we all subconsciously harbour, yet somehow never find the means to properly express, martyring himself in many a Central Park for us, his ungrateful audience.

The thing is, where Rich can very aptly weave his own wit and social observations into a spun yarn (“Stella,” “Roses and Bluejays”) the retarded quadrilogy of crappy characterization sees him (who we came here to see) get engulfed by his own creation. Terfry wants to document the human experience, to flesh out the character, so that we, his audience, get closer, and therefore relate to his art on a higher level. Problem: Homey the Loser Cowboy just ain’t likeable. And just as (and simply because) all of these sympathy suckholes are stuck in their own ruts, so is Rich when he goes to embody the (all together now) boring, sad, lonely deviant.

Are you getting tired of reading about the boring, sad, lonely deviant? Well, what do you think happens when, song after song, we hear about the boring, sad, lonely deviant contemplating things like, “I’m going down the road, feelin’ bad, bye and bye,” (“Roughouse Blues”) and then soliloquizing, “the drifter, singing the lament of the non-tryer / the isolation makes me want to set myself on fire / but I don’t live anywhere” (“The Suffering Machine”), and then gift-shoplifting, “desert highway / a bientot / still I’m stuck / I can’t afford it / picture postcards / small memento” (“Blood of a Young Wolf”), AND THEN waking up hungover: “What am I doing here? / No-star hotel / Wasting my wealth / telling myself to go to hell” (“Drunk Without Drinking”).

Sure, the last song tactfully turns into an exposition on being used (and features some slight Buck 65-ness when it mentions “Russian Literature”), but all-in-all we have four songs (don’t you dare look back at his more-recent past work, neither) about a lonely dude on the road who’s perpetually musing his personal circumstance, which never, ever, ever, ever changes barring someone being hot-for-encyclopediae. Is “bummer” not in the thesaurus? The philosophical dilemma is bottomless: if you find a million ways to say the same thing, are each of those million ways really unique? Shut up.

As noted, the best of the whiney lot is “Young Wolf,” which quickly develops from typical beginnings (opening line: “10,000 horses”) into Rich tossing fortunes into the wind like a rhythmic gymnast. If he wanted to, he could write the world’s most poetic bumper stickers, except there would likely be a condition that they all be attached to old pick-up trucks driven by boring, sad, lonely deviants. But when Rich says, “Really boring modern music, really boring modern girl” (implying a cause and effect?), or name-drops Neko Case in the same breath as Amelia Airheart and Frida Kalo, he’s putting his own head on display --- and it’s a pretty thing to watch, all by itself, unobscured by the boring, sad, lonely deviants and/or their dogs and/or their trucks. “Young Wolf” slopes into a soaring distorted fuzzline punctured with sparse drum programming and becomes a thing of production-wonder, and may be the most core-Buckish thing on the album, despite the fact that it builds and crescendos like no other “pure rap” song he’s done in the past.

Which is exemplary of a very nice quality of much of Rich’s work here: tactful arrangement. “Surrender to Strangeness” features progressive lounge pop (!) strings and tropicalia key flourishes and Rich manages to sell it. “The Floor” is guaranteed to mute the room while Rich weaves a half-fictional allegory around a memory of his deceased mother over soft chimes, and then brings the house down with a cathartic scratch-plus-banjo solo-plus clippy drum hit combo that, again, works fantastically on digital, but terribly when described in a music review. The drums are mixed beautifully on “Tin Façade,” and Berest’s backing vocals are serene and meditative. Finally, the aforementioned “Drawing Curtains” will curl toes the right way, given an audience that isn’t put-off by perverse, naked, corny charm that’s inherent whenever French accents collide with North American English in song. But come on: “Let’s make dirty babies until zee morning.” Dirty babies. That’s so Lynch.

Two halves, one record. Pick out the antihero tracks and one or two missteps (I’m still not settled on the spazzcore “Blank Bec”) and you have every Beck album (no typo) crammed into one disc with more wit and charm and weird science and heartache than that dude’s cumulative catalogue. And the comparison is apt --- Secret House sees Buck pressing sampler buttons, his wife’s buttons, and fighting for spotlight with some of the dudes from Tortoise (Herndon helped write ¾’s of these songs, for the better). I’m going to try coining something: welcome to post-rap (probably said before). This is hopefully the last “feel out” album-before-the-classic that we’re pissed off we don’t have yet. And to his credit, Rich makes it endearing to witness his growing pains, which are bound to occur with growth spurts this vast.