Monday, December 7, 2009


Thursday, February 14, 2008 

For a band so traditionally associated with their gloriously unhinged live performance (as memorably documented in Mark Butcher's film Sticky Carpet), successfully transferring Baseball's intensity to record would take a well-attuned producer and more than a few exclamation marks. Thankfully the exclamation marks and a faithful rendering of Baseball in full flight is here intact and with far more besides. Much of what is often lost in the intensity of their live show is upfront: the humour, the lyrics, the stories, Evelyn Morris' subtle percussion, Ben Butcher's textured guitar as well as a lyric booklet that actually adds to the album's richness, and beautifully detailed artwork. The animalistic nature of humans runs through this record like the Euphrates at full force, pushing concerns both ancient and current, and linking the two through personal stories of real and imagined encounters, diary passages and epithets. Singer Thick Passage obviously thinks deeply when he travels and researches ancient civilisations. Most songs allude to people or places, though far from being a geography tour, Animal Kingdom is closer to a blast in the face from a desert wind. Tackling subjects that would seem alien to almost every other band on the planet, Baseball take on an trans-continental Elamite wedding ("Show me a sign /Or a firehose from the sky / Roxanna if only you were born a man and Babylon more than bricks in the sand / Susa tonight as we sing / The seven planets shimmering / Invite the world! Let it be done! Europe and Asia will now be one.") in The Wedding At Susa, a passage taken from the diary of a Christian Iranian foot soldier (Faith Like A Cross - Trust Like A Flag) and the simple grace of offering food to strangers (The Hospitality Song). Humour is used to break cultural barriers; a Gonzo "cookies!" overhangs She Bakes Cookies distracting from it's deathly serious subject matter, or wanting dogs to facilitate communication when meeting tribal chiefs (Land Of Darkness - Land Of Dogs). Who else is going to take this on and invest it with such energy while singing in Ancient Aramaic?

Special mention must be made of the music too, which propels while never becoming overbearing and pulls unexpected dynamic shifts without ever drawing attention to itself. Clearly the band like keeping things interesting for themselves and the listener - given the daunting number of collective side projects offshooting Baseball, it's perhaps necessary. It's a wild and sometimes brutal mix; Morris's near-metal drumming, the fluid dissonance of Thick Passage's Arabic violin, guitar slices and surges from Ben Butcher, Monica Fikerle's punch-in-the-guts bass - all bound by a spot-on mix from Neil Thomason and Brent Punshon, possibly too raw for some but undeniably powerful.
Baseball have essentially done what any Pitchfork-lauded band would kill to do; invented their own genre. What it is is irrelevant - that they have done it at all is insignificant when compared to the achievement of doing justice to their far-from-dusty subjects while impelling you to cut loose in the process. Taking themes and stories that would otherwise disappear and turning them into furious Dervish-like whirls of partying amidst resurrected empires and desert ruins is no mean feat and deserves far more attention than it will likely garner. Hopefully history will see this for the groundbreaking release this is, and as Baseball know, history is far from boring.

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