"It's a fine line that separates the ragged stomp and swagger of Old Time Relijun and the borderline blackface routine of Jon Spencer and his Blues-ploitation, but it's an important one. Rather than rely or clichés, milking them for comedic effect or just for a strutting, self-congratulatory wank-off, Old Time Relijun takes the blues and twists it into a contorted, freakish figure similar to the way Captair Beefheart's early Magic Band did, complete with lyrics that seem pulled out of a peyote-eater's dream journal.
Old Time Relijun revolves around Olympia-based songwriter/multi-instrumentalist Arrington de Dionyso. The band started as a one-man deal, but over time de Dionyso recruited other Olympians to help his cause. For some time now, Old Time Relijun's drummer has been Phil Elvrum from the Microphones (lo-fi indie rock's great white hope). He also recorded Witchcraft Rebellion, and it features a few of his by-now-expected marks of idiosyncratic brilliance, though he mostly keeps the twists and turns to a minimum, relying instead on a trebly, tense sound.
As his name would seem to suggest, Dionyso sings like some drunker ecstatic lunatic when he's not doing his best Beefheart imitation. At his strangest and most compelling, he sounds like a Mongoliar throat-singing Popeye. Needless to say, it's one of those voices you're going to either love or hate immediately-- I happened to love it.
As for his lyrics, here's a good sample from the disc-opening "Mystery Language": "I can take off my head and so can my dad/ In the grocery store it falls on the floor..." You get the idea-- even the band's name is cribbed from Beefheart (Mr. Van Vliet's refrain or "Moonlight on Vermont"). Yet Old Time Relijun have clearly developed their eccentricities to such a high degree that they distinguish themselves beyond mere imitators. Those with the aural endurance to make it through Witchcraft Rebellion's early sonic assaults will discover hints of dub, Motown, post-punk angularity, and hipster-jive poetry strewn throughout the album.
"Cuneform" starts out like classic Beefheartian chang-ba, but ends sounding like a vintage Nick Cave rant-- uh, if Cave had ever ranted about archaeology. Elsewhere, "Mercury Snake" is a dirty slow jam coupled with the strangled blasts of a sax trying to turn itself inside out, and "King of Nothing" sounds like Sebadoh as fronted by the aforementioned spinach-eatin' sailor man.
The problem with most modern bands who take a lot of their cues from Beefheart is that they almost always ignore the wild sense of humor present in a lot of his music, focusing instead on Beefheart's more serious, conceptual, and high-minded aspects. I'm mainly thinking of U.S. Maple here, and they serve as a good foil to Old Time Relijun ir terms of bands heavily influenced by the good Captain. Old Time Relijun takes Beefheart's more playful elements and runs, synthesizing them with a shambling melange of clatter and junkyard funk. And in doing so, they transcend their influences by out-conceptualizing the conceptualists."
Gotta love a band this weird. There's that definite Beefheart weirdness along with some Primus-esque moments for good measure. After reading the review you might be able to tell if you'll dig it or not. Definitely for those who enjoy strange, humorous tunes. Highly recommended.