What constitutes beauty in a record? Is it production value? Is it the synergy and complexity of instruments expertly juxtaposed in a way that creates a seamless listening experience? Or is it something more? In The Baptist Generals case, it’s less. Much less.
No Silver/No gold, the second release from the Baptist Generals, of Denton, Texas, is much like the band’s prior release, Void Touching Faster Victuals, IN WHAT?. Except this time it’s recorded on an 8-track in a garage instead of in front man Chris Flemmons’s kitchen. That’s right, I said 8-track. Yep, I said garage.
Lacking any kind of studio garnish, the band manages to produce pure, untamed songs of pretty despair. Backed by a band of five others, Flemmons moans and groans in a lisp-y Texas twang that comes off sounding like a heroin sloshed Lou Reed.
On opener “Ay Distress,” Flemmons directs the song with a slow acoustic strumming and a powerful, whiny, tortured voice. The song’s dreamlike quality is abruptly ended when a cell phone ring interrupts the recording, sending Flemmons into a cursing rage. “Oh God! Fuck! Goddamit!” he screams. He hucks something at one of the garage’s four walls, making a load bang.
A listener has no choice but to be sucked into Flemmons’s moment of rage, and it is absolutely scary. It’s as raw as it gets. And each song on No Silver/No Gold encompasses the same emotional intensity. It’s that good.
The pace of the album is sporadic. Some songs are more upbeat than others, like “Alcohol (Turn & Fall)” and “500 League Reunion March (In a Plymouth)”. In both Flemmons yelps and moans his way under your skin, making you unsure if you want to assault a stranger or lapse into a state of anguish and ponder something greater. But the sentimental nature of No Silver/No Gold is its strong point.
When Flemmons moans “Down in your blood darling have you found your love?” on “Going Back Song,” you wonder what your sixth grade crush is doing now. If that version isn’t raw enough, the Generals included a version of “Going Back Song” that was recorded by Flemmons alone, with just an acoustic guitar and his 4-track. The song is much slower than the regular album version, but its unambitious pace and echoed vocals give the song a haunting quality that is absolutely gut wrenching.
“St. Christopher’s Medal,” written about Flemmons’s late father, is another stand out. Remorseful yet hopeful, the Generals wail through the song as if trying to summon the one thing that will never return.
Flemmons has said that in the future the Baptist Generals will record in a studio, though I wonder if a studio album can capture the same DIY essence that’s put forth on this album. Until then, sit back and listen to No Silver/No gold, reminisce to sweetly crafted songs and think about a time when life was far less complicated.