Album Review: The Great American Cattle Barons – Lavish Lies of the Holy Corpse

The Great American Cattle Barons

Lavish Lies of the Holy Corpse

The Great American Cattle Barons is actually yet another ‘band’ instigated by Iowa City’s profligate purveyor of bummer rock, Samuel Locke Ward, this time collaborating with Iowa City singer Mark Shields, formerly of the band Burnout. On his blog, Locke Ward says that Lavish Lies Of The Holy Corpses is “stadium noise rock.”

Locke Ward has always had a knack for clever, off-kilter lyrics, but his vocal style—for better worse—is a parody of actual singing. Shields is more straightforward; he can rasp like James Hetfield, snarl like Jello Biafra and croon like David Bowie. His formidable abilities as a rock singer were an inspiration to Locke Ward to pump more testosterone and grandiosity into his songwriting.

Most of the songs on Lavish Lies Of The Holy Corpses—like “Five Days” and “Going Shopping”—are manic, high-tempo rave-ups. The drum machine programming is hilarious, replete with kick drum rolls and machine gun snare fills worthy of Spinal Tap’s famously flammable drummers. The hyped drum samples and robotic timekeeping sounds completely wrong, but in the right ways. The guitars are all overdriven, fuzzed out and subtly crappy sounding, shying away from the Guitar Player Magazine school of tasty rock tone.

The lyrics for “5 Days” are just as ridiculous as the over the top metal arrangements: “Breakfast made: oatmeal. Surprise! stir it round, watch the fires rise” seems to try and metal-ize mundane home life. “Going Shopping” ups the ante on domesticity, including a shopping list and “cruising aisles, helpful smiles.” It’s like visiting the friendly neighborhood Hy-Vee in the grips of a meth bummer. It finishes up with a pitched-down monster voice intoning “Going shopping. For deals! For deals!”

In 2001, Björk put out Vespertine, which focuses on family life and raising kids and achieves a secure womb-like feeling. Lavish Lies Of The Holy Corpses is exactly the opposite, emphasizing the fear and hysteria just under the surface of becoming a grown-up and doing the mundane work of keeping a family together. “Closet door is slung open wide/shadows move within darkness implied,” sings Shields in “Creeping.” The childhood fear of shadows grows up into a larger terror—of bills, shitty chores and the daily grind.

Or so Locke Ward and Shields say. Both have gone from rock and roll punks to family men over the last decade, and even as they embrace maturity, they still have a tattered freak flag left to fly. They refuse to go gentle into adulthood. They’re starring in their own imaginary situation comedy “Totally Metal Dad,” making a joke out of the oversized musical gestures of Hard Rock, even as they embrace its liberating aggression.

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