Have you ever wondered what it would sound like if Ernest Hemingway and Hunter S. Thompson had gotten together over a few stiff drinks, said “screw this writing bullshit” and started a band together?
I can’t help but think that’s what Cobalt multi-instrumentalist Erik Wunder had in mind when creating Smiling Dogs, the debut album from Man’s Gin. Whereas Cobalt is extreme metal inspired by Hemingway and Thompson, Man’s Gin, with its dark, boozy take on American roots music, sounds like something the two authors might have actually listened to or played themselves had they traded in their typewriters for acoustic guitars and upright bass.
Just in case you’ve been living under a rock for the past few months, let me make it perfectly clear one more time. Smiling Dogs is NOT metal. Although it has nothing to do with what Wunder does in Cobalt musically, thematically it can be seen as a companion album to that band’s excellent Gin release from last year. But whereas Gin was the soundtrack to civilization’s unravelling in an avalanche of war, hatred, greed, lust, drugs and excess, Smiling Dogs is an account of those same events told from a very different perspective (it is telling that the two albums were largely written at the same time according to this interview).
Wunder weaves together elements of folk, country, blues and gothic rock to uncover yet another facet of America’s diseased underbelly, creating what sounds like post-apocalyptic Americana. It’s the type of music I imagine the survivors of the nuclear holocaust drunkenly playing around a campfire, spinning musical yarns about life before the bomb. There is an aura of death and despair that permeates the album, but also one of freedom. Freedom from the wretched, suffocating mire of modern society that all of us have become hopelessly stuck in. Freedom to give this mind-numbing existence the finger and drop off the grid forever. It makes me want to drive out to the middle of nowhere and run around naked with a pistol in one hand, a bottle of Tanqueray in the other and a mouth full of hallucinogens.
In much the same way that Hemingway and Thompson chronicled the yearnings, excesses, shortcomings and ultimately the disillusionment of their respective generations, Wunder does for ours through the haunting music of Man’s Gin. Smiling Dogs is a sonic distillation of these hard times we find ourselves living in, fearfully looking over our shoulders at all times for any sign of the four horsemen’s inevitable approach. It’s pure outlaw music for all of us that wish we could live on society’s fringes, but are too irrevocably addicted to this cesspool that was once known as the American Dream.
photo credit: Miller Oberlin