Those Bastard Souls – “Twentieth Century Chemical”

I don’t even know where to start with this album, because it doesn’t really sound like anything I can conclusively compare it to. It’s rock, but doesn’t seem to fit in any clear-cut subgenres. Which, frankly, is sometimes a good thing. And I think it might be a very good thing for Those Bastard Souls.

This is one of the albums I bought at Easy Street Records’ going-out-of-business sale a few weeks back, and it was a total shot in the dark. I wasn’t sure if I’d be getting rock, techno, industrial, or maybe even jazz (though I felt confident in ruling out gospel, hip hop, and mariachi). The stuff I found online about Those Bastard Souls makes a point of identifying them as a side project of Dave Shouse from The Grifters, but that really doesn’t help me much since I’m not familiar with them. But that unfamiliarity let me go into my first listen with no real pre-conceived notions.

Twentieth Century Chemical consists of 12 tracks and was released in 1996. It’s my understanding that the songs were recorded in different studios in the US and Europe, so I suspect that the country abbreviations that appear after each song title tie that song back to its recording location (Switzerland, Holland, Czechoslovakia, Germany, US, and UK). I have a hard time pinning down what Those Bastard Souls are about, but that also makes it impossible to ignore them and let their music fade into the background. If I was going to hazard to make a comparison to another contemporary band, the best I can do is Black Rebel Motorcycle Club. Holly says she doesn’t hear it, because the vocals are such a distinctive part of BRMC’s sound… but I think it’s there. If you’d like to help us settle this debate, feel free to post a comment. Though if you disagree with me, I might not tell her and instead hope that she doesn’t revisit this post at a later date.

I’m going to need to give Twentieth Century Chemical a few more listens. It may turn out that I think it’s genius; or I may just never quite “get it” (which doesn’t mean that it’s not genius… just that I’m not advanced enough to understand). Probably the most distinctive track in my first time through was “The Train from Terminal Boredom,” and I kind of dug the instrumental that closes the album, “21st Century Chemical,” which sounds an awful lot like a serious movie score, with intermittent slow trumpet blasts that conjure up old Clint Eastwood westerns. If you’re tired of the standard, cookie-cutter rock fare, Twentieth Century Chemical might be worth a listen on a rainy afternoon.

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