"A man's got to know his limitations."
Some of you may recognize these words from Clint Eastwood, playing Detective Harry Callahan in "Magnum Force." Well said, indeed.
When I wrote about Kyp Malone's album, I was also revealing my biases and limitations. Everyone's got their limits, even me. When it comes to music, I tend towards traditional song structure, great singing and musicianship. So, I admit I'm thrown a bit when I hear Moe Mitchell (above, right) and Cipher.
I knew I had to listen to this EP a couple of times and then listen again. I started to hear some riffs I liked, but the vocal presentation wasn't what I'm used to. I'm now wondering if there's another way into this song for me.
Fortunately, I'd had a chance to spend time with Moe at the black rock conference in Indiana and I knew he was cool. Based on that and seeing him in James Spooner's Afro-Punk, I also realized it was up to me to do the work to get my arms (and ears) around his band's music.
For me, the way in was through the lyrics. Cipher is a political hardcore band. What that means is that you're going to hear some really hard, politically-oriented punk rock. Contrary to any perceptions that I had that bands in this scene were mostly angry, young white guys (and therefore any black folks were probably just following suit), it was great to learn that Cipher is pushing a progressive vision. And maybe what we're hearing is frustration, not anger. And, after living through the Bush years, can you really blame them for feeling that way?
And don't be fooled: There's definitely some musicianship happening here. There's a level of sophistication that speaks to a quartet being armed with way more than three chords and the blues.
Did you like James Brown or Screamin' Jay Hawkins and the way they'd scream and wail? Amplify and stretch those screams out for an entire song, dial up the frustration, and you'd end up in the Cipher's zone.
Here's how the band describes this song:
The costly business of war is executed at the axis of the military and corporate interests of the modern nation-state. The men who make these decisions are insulated from the messy baggage of war: horrific violence, overflowing trauma, irreversible tragedy. Instead, wars are fought by the young and idealistic at the bequest of an entrenched elite. Young elites in every capital are recruited from the finest universities and most powerful families to take positions at the top of the axis, a different fate is met by our most vulnerable youth. This is a story of vulnerability in the suburbs of North America.
I'm posting the lyrics, which gave me a way to better appreciate the song:
For the dispossessed awakened fleeting caged and wanted hope. I place my own: a burned out hollow room with the myth of options when a bullet’s in my head, in my palm, a crude prescription in my arm. This prescription grants me arms. The grist of fictions grants me alms. It can't be long. Those that evangelize bury my wrist with a hail of guilt so “women, what would you say if your only son was dead.” Shot in the head to save his country. Close that casket. Save the front seats for the gangly patriarchs. Make them hungry for the blood scene. Oh, its obscene and its perfect. Twenty lashes, chained on one tree. Where we worship and wipe crocodile tears from our cheeks, in our sleep. I and whisper. He and whispers. THE PROJECT. THE PROJECT IS ALMOST DONE CONSTRUCTED BY OUR REQUEST. HIDE THE REMAINS. THEY’RE COMING. PATH HIGH HOPE. CLEAR CUT REACH. QUICKLY, RESET. BOMB OUT FATE. SOLUTIONS. MESSY. PERFECT. THE PROJECT IS DONE. Mother, from the beginning you shouldered my blows. Please don’t reproach me as I soldier on the older I grow. A cog in the wheel, in the wheel a spoke, in the spoke a seal, in the seal a hope. They say its better to die on your feet than to live on your knees for so much silver and gold. What if you face an erect death at the bequest of inept breadth of quivering souls? Wheeze as I Cleve to your breast. Grieve as I leave you in death. Plead as I leave you in debt. Reviewing flesh sleeved tissue memories it infests won’t breathe life to a still beating chest.
- Download Cipher's 6-song sampler from the upcoming album "The Joyous Collapse"
- Cipher on MySpace
- Cipher's wikipedia entry