Written by: Dave Cantrell
Simon Bonney’s been lost in the wilderness, or so it would seem. Not heard from in any guise, with band or solo, since 2001 (unless you count a mini-splash of postings on myspace and youtube in 2009/10), and not as the Crime And The City Solution since ten years before that, it was fair to assume our ears would remain hungry for that dramatic, Bible-thick baritone forevermore.
American Twilight is here, like a rather frightening annunciation, to remind a world that may have forgotten what a potent storm wind CATCS is capable of stirring up. Having last decamped in Berlin, making a muse out of that city’s long desperate Cold War anxiety until the wall crumbled and spoiled it all, they now fetch up in Detroit, feeding off the gothic – at the very least; some might say apocalyptic – post-industrial decay in which the once proud Motor City steadily sinks.
Though the Iggy gritty, MC5’ed assault dynamic of the band’s adopted city can’t help but seep into their sound – opener “Goddess” jumps out the gate with a tribal thunder of a drumbeat and a clarion blast of trumpet-mimicking electric guitar and a never lets up; “Riven Man” has a reckless swamp bar blues mojo stomping the shit out of seven levels of holy hell; the title track rips you a new throat and doesn’t even think of apologizing – there’s still something inviolably Australian about much of this record, limitless vistas and hot, scrubby sand. In the middle of “The Colonel (Doesn’t Call Anymore),” original (or close enough) member Bronwyn Adams’ double-tracked violin scratching stick shapes in the air while simultaneously crying a beautiful melody over the top, a check of the LP spine might be in order to see if you’ve mistakenly put on some lost album by the Triffids featuring Nick Cave and the Dirty Three. Even considering the material was fomented from inside the wasteland of America’s most wasted city, the shimmering heat haze expanse – and accompanying sense of existential isolation – exerts an irresistible pull.
Rather propitiously, the band’s profile has been richly embellished by the brimstone presence of David Eugene Edwards on guitar (joining long-ago guitarist/Einsturzende member Alexander Hacke), the 16 Horsepower/Woven Hand firestarter bringing hellacious fuel to the CATCS soundscape. “Domina” just out and out shivers with epic, Old Testament grandeur, Edwards’ style and influence bleeding so seamlessly into the mix it’s a bit eerie. Personally, I have to admit to a bit of a self-inflicted forehead slap, all these years hearing those two bands of Edwards’, seeing them live, all the while that nagging feeling, ‘They remind me of someone.’ Solved! Kindred spirits, spiritual kin. And not just in terms of passing Biblical imagery but more the Flannery O’Connored conviction in the voice and execution. Commitment writ large, in southern Gothic caps.
But above that, we have Bonney’s lyrics, dark with portent and lash, the type writing that we would have been excused for thinking Dylan would still be writing (from “Domina:” Slow, slow suburban train/blackbirds in velvet chains; from “Street Of West Memphis:”..lavender and hope/the tight turn of the rope). All of this presented inside a profound litany of goosebump-raising tropes, from gospel-inflected choruses to crescendos as likely to crush the spirit as it is to make it soar.
One day, twenty years ago, I found myself in the Cologne Cathedral, an atheist completely smitten by the grandeur of devotion in which I was enveloped. Much is the experience of hearing this album. There’s a statement of finality and release in “American Twilight” and lest the world forget, Simon Bonney and his ever-evolving band of conspirators are unparalleled in bringing a deeply moving, secular religious experience that just happens to rock you and move you far beyond what you have any right to expect from what’s ostenibly a rock band.
Chilling, in the best way possible, and it’s very good to have Bonney and company back. I am, indeed, smitten.
– Dave Cantrell