Apparently, the band that I found out about a couple of years ago and had albums of on infinite repeat for months at a time, Made Out Of Babies, is “FUCKING DEAD”, to quote Julie Christmas‘ Fudgebook page and the entry dated March 14. To call this a devastating blow is a bit of an understatement, although I kind of knew something was up when I considered that The Ruiner had been released in 2008 and after four years, the only MOOB-related thing we have seen is Christmas‘ solo album, a great little piece called The Bad Wife.
I ordered all three of Made Out Of Babies‘ albums on Compact Disc in December of last year. Two of them arrived in February or thereabouts. These being Trophy and The Ruiner. The second album, Coward, is still on what the distributors refer to as “back order” (in other words, “we are not anticipating getting it anytime soon”). Unfortunately, this is just the reality of buying music in Australia in this day and age. The market has literally become so cut-throat that the return on investment in distributing to countries that are distant and have as small a population as Australia is very minimal at best. So independently-distributed records generally have to be imported, entailing a greater amount of time and in some cases money.
Although Australia’s government has started to wake up to the futility of banning musical recordings, literature, or films, they really, really do not like bands like Made Out Of Babies. If you happen to be autistic, mentally ill, or just generally not mindless and sheepish, Australia does not like you in general. You conflict too much with their ridiculous “lucky country” rhetoric. As in, I wonder how lucky they would think they are if their population grew to the size of Germany’s overnight. And if there is one thing that Julie Christmas is good at, it is convincing the unwary listener that she really is having a nervous breakdown, and her bandmates simply put a microphone in front of her during the process.
For a moment, allow me to sidetrack. It is important to explain something here so you can get my full meaning. Of all of the components of bands and music that are emphasised far too much, even the guitar cannot hold a candle to vocals. When people listen to a song that I am listening to and say something like “I cannot understand the words”, it is all that I can do to not smack them around their head so many times that their view of the world is permanently sideways after the fact. I have audio processing disorder, for one thing, so being unable to understand what someone standing three feet in front of me due to noise from eighteen feet away coming in more clearly is not an infrequent occurrence. In other words, do not tell me your problems, surface-listener. And whilst I do like to try to take in the whole sound rather than focus on one solitary element (thus making me superior to “I cannot understand the words” folk right off the bat), the truth is that lower-frequency instruments are much easier for me to hear anyway. So when I say that Julie Christmas has joined Sylvain Houde or Katarina Lilja in the elite class of vocalists whom I actually want to listen to, I hope my full meaning is clear.
Trophy is the first album released under the Made Out Of Babies moniker. Although it does suffer to a degree from the usual problems afflicting a band making its first album, it suffers them a lot less than is the case with some first albums that I could mention. And while there are certainly a few weaker tracks on the album, the peak tracks tend to smack listeners upside the head in a way that demands attention. The opening track, Herculoid, finds Julie Christmas harmonising in a sweet, broad manner that, to my mind, sounds child-like and nervous, before unleashing a harsh, screeching, almost violent-sounding contrast that Kat Bjelland on her best day would find disturbing.
On one sticker attached to one cover, I read the names of bands to which the record company wanted the listener to believe Made Out Of Babies were similar to. One of those artists was none other than the inventors of doom metal themselves, Black Sabbath. Although the cosmetic similarity is minimal, the essence similarity is profound. When Black Sabbath got their big break, the concept of music designed from the get-go to disturb or scare the listener was almost unheard of.
Made Out Of Babies is all about disturbing the listener, and whilst many, many bands have attempted to do this with varying degrees of success, Made Out Of Babies succeed in a manner that put them at the top of the pack, especially with songs like El Morgan. If I had to pick out one song from Trophy that best exemplifies Made Out Of Babies‘ awesomeness, it would be Gut Shoveler. Although I have not quite worked out what Julie is on about on this song, the constant shift from raging to harmonising, and weird metaphors abound, makes this an oft-listen. Maybe it is just the manner in which Julie punctuates some of her sentences with a short, sharp, shrill scream, but listening to the whole band give a roadmap of the distressed Human brain is honestly so compelling.
[Edited to add; April 4, 2012:] Well, I guess I should have expected that when I started writing about how prostrate with grief I was about the death of the Made Out Of Babies project, the album I had been waiting for about three and a half months to obtain would arrive in the store I ordered it at. As you can see from the cover art shown to the left, Coward, album number two from Made Out Of Babies, is another deliberate attempt to spook and disturb the listener. In the hours since I acquired this disc, I am still dealing with conflicting impressions of the album. Between Trophy and The Ruiner, there seems to be a bit of a gap in terms of musical direction, and Coward does not neatly fill it. The concept in the music is basically the same, but the execution is different enough to make me pause and scratch my head.
Part of the reason for this is that I have only listened to Coward about three or four times so far, as opposed to the dozens of times I have listened to the other two albums. And although Coward leans more toward the consistency of The Ruiner, it does not have the supreme peaks that either The Ruiner or Trophy feature. But then, when the first thing one hears as they start an album is Julie Christmas roaring at the top of her lungs, I suppose one should just sit back and ride the madness.
The cover art pretty much matches the general theme of the album, too. The album seems to have been designed to give the listener an inside view of the mind of a person suffering in the midst of domestic abuse. It is also a triumph of independent music marketing. I mean, when you look at an album cover and see a child with one eye swollen shut, and discover that the title of the album is Coward, you do not forget it in a hurry.
Interesting song names abound on this album. Mandatory Bedrest and Gunt are my personal favourites. There is also an “extension” of the closing song on Trophy, an almost five-minute version of the song Out. On Trophy, Out was exactly that. An outro lasting forty-one seconds that, whilst supplemental to the musical psychosis, did not exactly leave that much of a lasting impression. The Out that appears on Coward builds upon the outro and becomes a complete song, one that goes somewhere and is, you know, boss.
Long story short, Coward is just like the albums that came before and after it. It takes a few listens to really get used to, and a few more to really get into the swing of, but after having listened four times, I think it is going to join its catalogue-mates as a constant repeated listen.
I suppose if there had to be an album that Made Out Of Babies ended with, The Ruiner is a pretty good choice as third albums go. As soon as the grinding distortion and phased/flanged vocal introduction begins, one knows they are not in for a “la la la” album.
Unlike Trophy, The Ruiner is not an album of peaks and valleys. Although there are songs I enjoy less than the others, the album itself forms a bit of a whole that is quite a trip to listen to when in the mood. The general theme of the album can be discerned from the cover art. Humanity has become quite a ruiner, of the world it lives in, of the species that exist around it, and of the space around it. H.G. Wells once stated that civilisation is a race between education and catastrophe. Wells only lived until just after the end of World War II (he was 79 at the time, though, so he hung in there well for someone born of a comparable era). So he did not get to see the ludicrous population explosion that has occurred in the last sixty or so years. But if there is one thing The Ruiner makes a good aural wake-up call to, it is that civilisation is beginning to badly lose the struggle.
The closing number of The Ruiner, How To Get Bigger, references a number of problems that I see in my daily struggle. When Julie sings that “little things add up”, well, let us just say that it does not take me long to think of twenty people I would happily sing those words to whilst pulling out their fingernails. This is a song that could just as easily have been written by someone who is witnessing the end of the Human species.
It has been over a month since Julie announced that Made Out Of Babies is no more. I am still in disbelief. Of course, internal politics within a band often means there needs to be a legal agreement made in order to keep harmony and provide a means to settle disputes. Clearly, something happened between 2008 and 2012 that made it impossible for Made Out Of Babies to continue with the “brand”. So if you have not yet managed to partake of the sonic awesomeness that is Made Out Of Babies, please go and do so. It may prove to be just the kind of thing you need to hear.
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