Artist: Alice Donut
Label: Alternative Tentacles
Producer: Alice Donut, Robert E Miller
Cover art: Tomas Antona
ALBUM TITLES DON’T get much more morbidly sardonic than Bucketfulls of Sickness and Horror in an Otherwise Meaningless Life. Always looking on the bright side of nihilism, Alice Donut pick at the scabs of civilised society to reveal what wriggles underneath so they can point at it and laugh. And it’s on their sophomore album that this blend of cheerfulness and grotesquery first truly came together.
Bucketfulls expands on the pop-punk of Alice Donut’s first album by becoming, paradoxically, both cruder and more sophisticated. From the strummy mid-tempo pop of “Sinead O’Connor on M.T.V.” to the speedy, country-tinged punk of “Testosterone Gone Wild,” the songs here improve on the simple charms of the band’s debut with tighter songwriting and more complex arrangements. But even the album’s most straightforward material has a peculiar and grubby edge to it. Tomas Antona pushes his voice into weirder places, and yet his high-pitched wail sounds less grating than before, while the raw production blurs the dynamic guitar interplay between Dave Giffen and Michael Jung into a drunken churn that suits the band well.
It seems the messier and more complicated Alice Donut’s music gets, the more appealing it becomes. The chorus of “Lydia’s Black Lung,” for instance, sounds all the more rousing for following the queasy funk of its verses, and the song’s bookends of sputtering feedback provide a suitably grimy setting for a perverse tale of artificial limbs and iron lungs that would give J.G. Ballard tingly feelings. The songs are deceptively complex, built from unexpected parts: “Sky of Bones” is a psychedelic cow-punk number that shimmers and slides around like a greased eel before slowing down for a reggae breakdown that shouldn’t work but somehow does. Yet Alice Donut’s stylistic and tonal shifts never seem as haphazardly stitched together as those of, say, Frank Zappa or Mr. Bungle, always serving each song as a whole.
Surprisingly, Alice Donut’s ear for a catchy hook only highlights the strangeness of their more arty material, in which they crank up the stomach-churning riffs and Antona is given free rein to be obnoxious. “Dorothy”, which is about the Wizard of Oz protagonist’s walk on the wild side, is a Zeppelinesque stomper with passages of warped guitar and a disorientating, echo-drenched bridge in which Antona yodels like a crazed goatherd. “Egg” rides a distressed, stop-start riff that drops away into feedback for a cultic pre-chorus incantation that bridges the gap between the insanity of its verses and the big, singalong chorus. “Demonologist” might be the oddest thing here: backwards vocalisations, Stephen Moses’ tribal drums and the drone of a didgeridoo conjure Exorcist levels of diabolism over what might be a contender for the sickest-sounding psychedelic guitar riff ever recorded.
Alice Donut’s lyrics are no less demented, with lashings of pitch-black humour. “Consumer Decency” is set in a supermarket where Antona has beaten someone to death with a boneless chicken, and “Egg” perfectly captures the existential distress caused by being born into this world. This blend of surreal imagery with political and social commentary is perhaps best demonstrated on “Lisa’s Father (Waka Baby)”. It retells the story of a comic produced by infamous fundamentalist Christian cartoonist Jack T. Chick, in which a child molester’s sins are forgiven when he discovers Christ. With its silly voices and singalong coda, the song is crude and tasteless, but nowhere near as tasteless as the rhetoric of the comic it draws its story from, which I guess is the whole point.
Bucketfulls of Sickness and Horror in an Otherwise Meaningless Life finds Alice Donut at their messiest and artiest, precariously poised between freaky vulgarity and pop approachability. Alice Donut reflect the illness they see in the society around them, but their music is hopeful in a way that the dour grunge of the alt-rock explosion was not. This colourful approach to difficult subjects might seem cheap and crass, but Alice Donut understands that while life is filled with suffering, without it there would be no meaning. Rather than swallow it all down and pretend it’s not there, better to puke it up and examine the whole technicolour mess with a big stupid grin on your face.
- “Lydia’s Black Lung” – 2:49
- “Testosterone Gone Wild” – 2:24
- “Sinead O’Connor on M.T.V.” – 1:34
- “Dorothy” – 4:29
- “Sky of Bones” – 4:50
- “Egg” – 3:37
- “Consumer Decency” – 2:34
- “My Life is a Mediocre Piece of Shit” – 4:13
- “Incinerator Heart” – 1:30
- “Buckets, Forks, Pock” – 3:38
- “Demonologist” – 3:15
- “Lisa’s Father (Waka Baby)” – 5:23
Listen on Spotify
Also check out…
- Alice Donut – Mule (1990)
- Alice Donut – The Untidy Suicides of Your Degenerate Children (1992)
- Alice Donut – Pure Acid Park (1995)
- Alice Donut – Fuzz (2006)