The Invincible Czars, Gods of Convenience

The Invincible Czars, Gods of Convenience

“Keep Austin weird.” A friend of mine who lived in Austin for ten years told me that when these bumper stickers popped up, longtime Austinites began uttering the phrase ironically when they saw things truly strange and unsettling. The image of Austin as a free-spirited artist’s community, whatever the case fifteen years ago, is now probably equal parts rosy nostalgia and apocryphal marketing cliché. Indeed, I have spotted parallel stickers for communities ranging from Boulder (OK) to Louisville (what?) to Houston (dream on, Pacifica!).

And yet, every once in a while we receive a reminder that some clichés have a basis in reality. Though they couldn’t be less savvy about it, the Invincible Czars are one of the truly weird bands to emerge from the Austin music mill recently. Combining Klezmer music, prog rock and the pseudo-classical musings of Oingo Boingo could produce no other result. It’s difficult to tell how to judge Gods of Convenience. Is it successful in blending dissimilar genres into something resembling a distinctive style? Is it successful in executing complicated and difficult music? Unquestionably, on both counts. Is it sufficient as a document of a unique musical vision? Is it at least largely free of cliché, hipsterism and lameness? So far, so good. Do its ideas convince the listener of their veracity? Does it thrill and move? Does it rock? Here our ground is less certain. Does it sound good? Does it look good? Are the lyrics to the first track not a totally unnecessary sour-grapes attack on “the indie rock gurus”? Frankly, no.

The charitable retort is that as long as the musical ideas themselves come through (which they do here), the record is successful — but an idea isn’t just substance. As any student of Heidegger can tell you — and Czar idols Nomeansno know it (“The Worldhood of the World As Such”) — different words are different for a reason, and in order to present an idea effectively, one must choose words with exactly the right shade of meaning, taking into account both denotation and connotation. Just so, musical ideas must be presented in exactly the right way. To fail to do so not only prevents people from understanding your ideas; it changes the meaning of the ideas themselves. So tension becomes awkwardness and attitude becomes childishness, the ominous becomes the ridiculous and the unique the quixotic, an edgy band in crazy costumes becomes a bunch of dorks in exposure suits (ahjonx why, excuse me!), and what one is left with is that of which The Onion once accused Les Claypool: “cartoonish weirdo wankery.” Or, from another perspective, anything worth doing is worth doing well: a recording that sounds bad detracts from the quality of the music. And bad album art and design — why is it even there?

If the principle that genius is close to insanity is represented by Lou Reed or Iggy Pop, what Oingo Boingo, Primus and the Invincible Czars demonstrate is that genius is close to geeky self-indulgence. You want to play it tricky and fast? You want to play in costume? You want to play “Hava Nagila,” “Pink Elephants on Parade,” “A Night on Bald Mountain,” and “The Nutcracker” as rock and “Blackened” as a polka? Fine. Weird is good. But remember that the original “weird” that Austin had was the Big Boys, MDC and the Dicks. So before you make it weird, please, make it frickin’ rock.

(Above Suspicion Records; The Invincible Czars -- http://www.invincibleczars.com/)
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Review by . Review posted Friday, July 14th, 2006. Filed under Reviews.

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