Johnny West is a local celebrity in Windsor, a man who has completely thrown himself into creating tons and tons of CDs jam-packed with highly original imaginative content which he doles out at local music venues and CD shops for free. I'm a pretty big fan of his work, especially his album, "Chicken Angel Woman With A Triangle." He's always got a new project on the go. His Most recently released album, Gift for a Spider, outlines the story of a brief but painful relationship he passed through. I decided to give you a brief synopsis so that if you are ever in Windsor, dear reader, you can pick up a copy of your own to explore.
The first track, Optimistic, rather ironically named, which begins with the cynical lyrics, "There's no such thing as love, just misplaced pity," has a melodic and cheerful guitar riff, upbeat drums and the low, dark vocal tones that take me back to my high school days of rocking out to Interpol. The munchkin finale rings true to classic Johnny West weirdness. A rather enjoyable track despite its abrupt ending. The next track, Emotional Blackmail, has West's wonderfully hermeneutic, fresh, relatable metaphors paired with a dreamy, echoey acoustic sound. Despite its sad theme, the song feels like a magical song for hippie summers on the beach.
The title Bring Rain in Case of Fire I found amusing because I originally misunderstood the title to mean bringing rain in a breifcase full of fire... was this meant to be a double-meaning or am I really that daft? Who knows! This song has lots of melodic contemplative guitar, bouncy banjo, attractive drum pieces, and JW's classic wailing-what a fantastic voice. It's amazing how he can work so many seemingly disconnected sounds into one song. Like A Lover Does is a dreamy, soft piece with harp-like distortion and the classic cryptic lyrics I have come to expect. My favourite line from this song is "This is perfect/that is not/learn to tell the two apart/and reverse the polarity."
Communist Sex Igloo is surprisingly jazzy, with synths and organs. I would totally play this in the background of a cocktail party... no idea about the title though -- unless it is a reference to a popular TV show, CSI? Stupid Love Song For Someone Who Didn't Deserve It is a soft, slow song, which on some level sounds romantic, but with different ears also sounds sad and nostalgic. It's a heartbreaking, beautiful song that is very revealing.
Surrender To Thee is a collection of dark, distorted riffs and animal like Godzilla screams, ended in laughter. A shocking juxtaposition to the previous piece. Different Degrees of Wrong is a piece with a vintage rock and roll sound that transitions into something slightly softer. It's surprising how he makes the abrupt shift between the two sounds so smoothly. He even manages to put in something that sounds like a clip of guitar played backwards.
Stutter Steps has an interesting approach to percussion. The popping, cracking sound of the percussion sounds like a meld between a worn record and rain, as it progresses it becomes more of a march. It seems percussion was an important point in this song, as it references Morse code, rhythm, clarity, and a person's scalp serving as a drum. Makeshift Ashtray is at moments haunting, at other moments incredibly relaxing, and other times paranoia-inducing, which is impressive considering how imperceptible the changes in the song are, and how short the song is.
Pepperoni Pizza Pockets is an amazingly funky and '80s satirical rap song. Probably the only rap song I know where someone has used the word "convoluted." I wish we played this song at our high school dances! I was excited when Puppet Playing Possum contained banjo, but I guess I should have known any song with the word 'possum' has to have banjo. This love song is written from the perspective of -- surprise! -- a puppet. This is a wonderful song about relationships to be interpreted on many levels.
Light Sleeper consists of a choppily strum guitar with sad, soft vocals. This song stays pretty true to the typical Johnny West sound. The organ and tambourine gave this song an interesting retro twist. Slow Birdies begins with jungle-like percussion with different whistles, a bugle, piano and some electronic guitar. It's pretty mellow but still gets you shaking. Oh You Pretty Little Narcissist keeps the groove going with a rolling guitar, although the lyrics are darker than the music suggests. I could see this song easily being written as a darker rock song, but the mellow, bouncy beat on it lends a juxtaposition that emphasises the morbidity of the relationship he describes.
Some Things Are Better Left Buried has a wonderfully warm sound, with scratchy acoustic guitar and organ to give ambience. The Interpol-ish guitar makes another appearance, as well as some mysterious harp-like instrument The warmth and echo of this song gives the impression of nostalgia. It's very tempting to sing along with the vocals, especially with such fun lyrics as "fetid pair of feet." Maple Trees Are Not My Enemies has a full, echoey feel that reminds me of a CD by Howard Hello & Greenness that I got at my school radio station for free. The crazy laugh near the end really adds to the experimental sound of this piece.
She's Someone Else's Problem Now has a delicious folky feeling, with a strange distorted guitar you would expect to hear at a metal concert. What an unexpected combination! Surrender To Thee (Redux) was brief but rockin. Kind of makes me think of Weezer's "Hashpipe" meets James Bond. Going back to the original Surrender to thee I can see that behind the Godzilla screams is the same tune played slower... pretty cool.
Nightside is surprisingly like a ballad from a musical; it must be that bouncy piano. Definitely very theatrical -- I can imagine a group of people raising their arms and dancing to it, but then it is suddenly broken by a hilarious rant. I'm Not Your Dirty Little Secret Anymore begins with a beach boy-like guitar and the words "You are a toxic whore." Looks like this is another song with a happy sound and dark content. This is basically a summary of the terrible events that transpired during Johnny's most recent relationship. I can't help but wonder if this mystery woman is listening to this song and what her reaction would be.
I really enjoyed listening to this album. In some ways it was bitter and dark and incredibly personal, definitely a cathartic album, but in other ways it had a lot of fun tunes and some very quirky pieces to keep everything balanced out. Although this isn't my favourite Johnny West album, I still really recommend checking out this album. We have some great talent here in Windsor and Johnny West is definitely at the top of that list.