October 31, 2002

Ed's Underground

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The Billy Nayer Show is the musical outlet for filmmaker Cory McAbee. Anyone familiar with his films (like The American Astronaut, playing at Cornell Cinema) will already know his band’s bizarre music, which is often woven into his movies. The Villain That Love Built was the first Billy Nayer Show album that doesn’t also function as a film soundtrack.

McAbee, along with partner Bobby Lurie, makes up the core of the Show on this disc, accompanied by a string of helpers including experimental guitarist Marc Ribot. Musically, the Billy Nayer Show is a mixed bag of genres and styles — ranging from Zappa-esque pseudo-jazz, to the childlike Casio bounce of They Might Be Giants, to subtly warped rock, to a unique synthesis of these styles (and more) that sounds like nothing else.

The memorable opener, “Mr. Satan Butterwolf,” instantly calls to mind Zappa with its stream-of-consciousness spoken word lyrics (“everyone was happy there/ bunny crap left everywhere to sit in the sun and harden”) and dissonant musical backing. “Sunshine All the Time” is a surprisingly tender ballad, marked by Ribot’s restrained string bends and a summery rhythm.

The album is in a state of constant tension between dark and light — the band is as capable of light-hearted faux-country like “Rainbow” as they are of dark free-poetry like “I gave birth to a baby and ate it like a sausage” (from “A Body Fell”). The crawling march of “My Funeral” is the absolute height of this tension, pairing a humorous depiction of a funeral with droning music punctuated by creepy sound effects. This dialectic gives the band a distinctive dark comic atmosphere that parallels the mood of McAbee’s films.

The Villain That Love Built is an impossibly fun listen that will probably, I’ll admit, annoy the hell out of some listeners. But anyone with a somewhat twisted sense of humor or a taste for the absurd — or who’s just looking for something different — should give this album the chance it deserves.

Archived article by Ed Howard