I am not the best writer for this piece.
I know, conservatively, less than half a percent of The Residents’ songs, own a diminutive fraction of their 60-odd album releases and would struggle to identify some of their purportedly best-loved songs in a line-up, much as I – or indeed anyone – would struggle to identify an umasked Resident member in a line-up. Accordingly, given that I Am A Resident is almost entirely constructed from songs from The Residents’ extensive back catalogue, I hereby submit, once again, that I am not the best writer for this piece.
I am also the best writer for this piece for precisely the same reason.
I Am A Resident is both by The Residents, and not by The Residents. Its songs are constructed from cover versions of Residents songs, performed by a bunch of underground artists whose names read like they belong on Nurse With Wound’s infamous list, signifying just how prevalent the still semi-mythical San Francisco unit are as influences on what we might define as musical outsiderism. The tracks were then dissected, rebuilt, layered, and augmented with new sounds by The Residents themselves, thus creating something new out of other people making new stuff out of old stuff that you might or might not know. A Residents ‘best of’, both by The Residents, and not by The Residents. New, old, and new-old.
Got it? Good.
If you’re remotely interested in art history, think of this as sitting somewhere on the Warhol-Rauschenberg axis – Warholian because it involves enlisting the support of other people to make the art for you in your name, Rauschenbergian because it’s a collage of repurposed material that Bob would’ve approved of.
Bookended by two faux radio idents presented by DJ Denver Dolittle that sound like they belong on Welcome To Night Vale, the five long tracks here don’t feel like anything other than complete pieces, even though they are stitched together with a turntablist’s frenetic, magpie-like zeal. It’s messy, for sure, but done in a way that implies lots of painstaking studio polish. Like The Residents’ own material, what you get here are lots of musical ideas reflecting back their own relatively borderless and unconstrained approach to sound – wonky, crunchy electronica colliding with scratchy rock colliding with freaky jazz colliding with vaudevillian humour colliding with over-amped rawk colliding with a quintessentially Bay Area take on musique concrète. I’ve now listened to it countless times, and the material is no less familiar ten plays in than the first time I played it, and lots of new details seem to emerge with each and every play.
A special edition two-CD version came with 24 tracks of what is presumably the source material for the collage pieces. At some point when I have more time I’ll listen to each of those tracks alongside the original versions to compare them, but in my head – at least – they’re a mixture of faithful renditions and highly original takes on what would, in other circumstances, be considered uncoverable songs – not because they’re sacred, per se, but because they’re not necessarily the easiest of songs to cover. There’s a reason why The Residents aren’t natural Karaoke artists, although, on the recorded evidence, lots of these guys would pitch up at that weird Karaoke bar night after night.
“In true Residents form, we don’t always follow the rules,” says Dolittle on the concluding radio segment, which is stating the obvious, of course. “Just as it’s always been – the eye is on you,” he concludes. The inference is thus: I am a Resident, she/he is a Resident, you are a Resident and, heck, we can all be Residents, if we so wish… or, in the case of this wonderfully odd LP, if your cover version happened to be among those picked for the source material for this album.
(c) 2018 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence