Dusting Off... The Residents' Duck Stab
What is it?
Imagine, if you will, the more avant-garde area of the musical landscape as a desert with a long road winding through it. Now imagine yourself driving down that road, leaving behind the radio-friendly pop of Olly Murs and the Mumfords and venturing ever deeper into a land of strange and experimental sounds. As you pass the mangled electronic stylings of Dan Deacon, the ethereal, haunting melodies of Bjork and eventually find yourself travelling through the baffling time signatures of Can, Soft Machine and the downright weird sounds of Frank Zappa's more adventurous work, you might be tempted to hit the brakes. Don't. Put your foot down, keep going and launch yourself, Thelma & Louise style, over the cliff at the end. Somewhere, in the bottomless abyss that follows, you will find The Residents.
If that seems like an abstract way to describe a band, wait until you get a load of their music. Surely one of the most enigmatic groups in history, even their origin story sounds like something out of a Hunter S. Thompson novel. Supposedly hailing from Louisiana, the story goes that they decided to relocate to San Francisco in the 1960s, but when their truck broke down in San Mateo, California, they decided to stay and were joined by a mysterious Bavarian composer known as N. Senada. Debate has raged ever since over whether this was actually a real person or an invention of the band, whose identities have remained shrouded in mystery throughout their 40-year career. During that time they have released more than 60 albums, live recordings and short films. Duck Stab is the fifth of these studio albums, and it's a very strange beast indeed.
Released in 1978 on the band's own Ralph Records imprint, Duck Stab is not what you would describe as easy listening. The more accessible tracks on the album include opener 'Constantinople', the brief, rock 'n'roll blast of 'The Booker Tease' and the downright frightening 'Lizard Lady', but then this really isn't a band that's aiming for radio airplay. The rest of the album is an exercise in stretching the boundaries of what is listenable, but while it isn't always easy going there is an astonishing array of sonic palettes on offer here.
Why should I revisit?
Despite the challenging nature of much of their musical output, The Residents have achieved cult status thanks to their uncompromising approach to making music and their spectacular, theatrical live shows, which often incorporate visual or multimedia elements and performance art.
There's also a new documentary entitled Theory of Obscurity by director Don Hardy Jr., exploring the band's bizarre story and featuring contributions from the likes of Devo co-founder Gerald Casale, Primus bassist Les Claypool and The Simpsons creator Matt Groening, among many others.
Who will enjoy it?
You'll probably know within the first minute or so of listening to Duck Stab whether you love this band or hate them – and we're not going to dress it up, this won't be for everybody – but if you're into the weird, far-out sounds of Frank Zappa, Captain Beefheart and Throbbing Gristle, this might well be right up your street. You can also check out the trailer for Theory of Obscurity below...