The style and sound of experimental music don’t hew to geographic regions. And Buck Gooter, a noisy duo from Harrisonburg, Virginia, perhaps best exemplify the concept. Convened in the early aughts, after Terry Turtle and Billy Brett met working at local restaurant the Little Grill Collective (known for hosting an early-career Old Crow Medicine Show at its open-mike nights), the band evolved into a succinct, prolific, and unpredictable dispenser of despondent industrial-blues sounds. The duo had been working on yet another record when Turtle succumbed to cancer in late 2019. With the spirit of his collaborator in mind, Brett soldiered on to complete Head in a Bird Cage. Turtle had recorded some vocals from the hospital to help cope with the misery of his treatment, and Brett included them on tracks such as dirgey opener “Nailed to a Cross”—its spectral chorus features Turtle moaning ghostly contributions from his hospital bed. Compared to Buck Gooter’s usual sound, Head is more claustrophobic and sinister and less driven by rock ’n’ roll antecedents—it spotlights Brett’s synthetic drum programming and keyboard work, as well as his unhinged antics on the microphone. While some of the lyrical conceits here angle at something transcendent and miss (“Craters of the Moon,” “Three Wordless Books,” “Dying to Believe”), Buck Gooter are more than capable of rendering the desperation and claustrophobia of living in a tiny rural enclave. Some of the work here also dives into the puerile: “Cobwebs” compares the travesties of humanity with a dirty room, ignored and unkempt and draped with cobwebs that still aren’t enough to fill the narrator’s wounds. But conviction and self-determination help make Head—or really any Buck Gooter recording—an interesting artifact from an experimental rock-music culture that’s spread widely enough to pull in sounds from every holler in the world. Each of the short, sharp, and baleful blasts here conveys not just the despair of lost friendship and stifled creativity but also a disdain for the state of the world at large.
Buck Gooter’s album Head in a Bird Cage is available from Ramp Local.