There isn’t a musical box that would comfortably fit Buck Gooter. Even if there were, it would only take guitarist/vocalist Terry Turtle and vocalist/synthesist Billy Brett a few minutes to deconstruct the box and build an imposing edifice out of the leftover lumber. The Virginia-based duo has, since 2005, done everything in their considerable power to avoid being constrained in that way. Over the course of 18 albums, including their recently released Finer Thorns, they bent, squawked, wailed and wiggled their way out of genre descriptors and easy categorization even as they try to pigeonhole themselves as a “primal industrial blues band.”
That self-proclamation comes close to truth of Buck Gooter, especially on songs like “Peace Siren” and “Land of the Dead,” both of which featuring slapping drum machine rhythms and some fevered hollering from Brett. Moments like that make Thorns feel raw and immediate, a quick burst of creative energy recorded before the ether wears off. But the album continues to shift away and around what the duo says of themselves. “The Fig Wasp” is a science lesson stoned on incense fumes and cheap wine. A prophetic yell about environment catastrophe is treated with Indian-like melodics and the occasional drum thud on “Used To Rain.”
Great as the music often is, it feels like the members of Buck Gooter treat it as a necessary evil, a way to get their polemical expressions shoved down as many throats as possible. They a lot of righteous political anger to get out about the foolhardy attempts to build a new wall at our Southern border (“Joshua Rising”) and want to croon that “science is a rascal,” a giggling appreciation for having one’s biases challenged and truth bombs detonated. These tunes don’t make for the best chants or singalongs at rallies. For all their in-your-face antics and volume and seemingly simplistic lyrics, there’s nuance to explore.
Buck Gooter aren’t without precedent. Boiling in their murky stew are remnants of confrontational post-punk duo Suicide, the art psychosis of The Fugs and the prolific disregard to overthinking that has driven the output of Jandek for 40 years. Just like those artists, Finer Thorns can be a challenging listen for the uninitiated, and with its stylistic shifts, can feel sluggish and unfocused at times. The path Buck Gooter takes has many stops and multiple detours. Just keep smiling and enjoy the scenery no matter how bumpy and treacherous the journey becomes.