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Send in the Clowns

Words: Skids the Clown

Musically, the dawn of 21st century was not unlike the mid-70s. Back then, the music that inspired Bacchanalian festivals had faded into the soothing tones of Joni Mitchell and the Alan Parson’s Project. It went from being the soundtrack to bizarre social experimentation to being the uninspiring background music for your daily commute that’s still played on divorce-rock stations across the country. With the proliferation of emo, Radiohead, and droning electronica, it’s obvious that the once-interesting indie scene has sagged into some kind of listless adult contemporary state. But just as people with a low tolerance for boredom were cooking up punk and hip-hop when this happened in the 70s, there are now people brewing something more exciting to scrape the barnacles off the rotting hull of the music industry today. Enter the Sea Donkeys.

The Donkeys are a crew of social rejects that have given up land-lubbery for a life aboard their haunted garbage trawler, the Grizzled Craw. They spend most of their time festering aboard the Craw, coming ashore occasionally to restock their liquor cabinet and play a few gigs. No one knows who they are, as they all wear donkey masks both on and off stage. For all anyone knows, they actually just look like donkeys and aren’t wearing masks at all.

Their frontman is said to have scraped more seamen off his poop deck than half the regulars at Neighbours, but he agreed to give me a quote for this article if I bought him a drink. I print it here without comment: “Goddamned kids these days and their music. They’re just pushing buttons and spinning records. Back in my day we stepped on pedals and turned knobs. REAL knobs!”

My first experience with the Donkeys was more like an exorcism than a music show. For some reason, they’d didn’t play any of their songs, and instead just made a bunch of insane noise while their lead conch shell player hooked his nipples up to a car battery and screamed obscenities at the audience. Eventually, the crowd erupted into a near riot, throwing chairs and pint glasses at the stage until the band was escorted out the back door. Intrigued, I bought their self-titled debut album.

The album was recorded below deck on the Craw, and you can almost hear the stench of dead fish and unwashed sea hag coochie as soon as you drop the needle. It begins with the ominously melodic, yet discordant, “Sailors.” The lead singer may have spent the last 30 years gauging fish from the briny deep, but she’s still got a voice like a horny angel. “Castaway,” originally released as a single accompanying the book “Sartre’s ‘Being and Nothingness’ For Dummies,” is a ditty describing life in an era of confused alienation not seen since the collapse of Hellenistic syncretism. Other classics include covers of the Marx Brothers’ “Lydia” and, my favorite, Heart’s “Barracuda.” Though the singer sounds like he’s taken a cheese grater to his voice box, this cover still ranks high above the original in both technical prowess and pure Èlan.

Since no music review would be complete without comparing the band to other bands, imagine a lobotomized Nick Cave attacks Tom Waits with a lawn mower and feeds the remains to rats who are eaten by donkeys who gently sodomize you with a Christmas tree wrapped in barbed wire, all in the context of an old Popeye cartoon. They’re THAT GOOD!

The album is available at Wall of Sound, 315 E Pine St and through forcedexposure.com.

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