Alibi V.28 No.51 • Dec 19-25, 2019 

Sonic Reducer

Robert Bruce Jackson Caruthers Commonplace Items for Extraordinary Tasks (Self-released)

I don’t know what else to tell you. This album is amazing. I listen to music all the time. At work, at home in the evening and morning and while driving all around The Duke City, I am jamming to everything I can cram into my brain. My doctor says this has resulted in a neurological condition called hyperthymesia. Don’t worry, I’ll live, especially if I can listen to this record over and over during the few days between now and Christmas.

That will be my gift to myself because I do spend all damn day doing it with the musical muse and danged if I don’t occasionally stumble onto the mother lode—and get to listen to and write about it besides.

In this case, I’m not going to talk influence or directionality. Each of the songs on Caruthers’ new work is singular and clear and quirky and detuned and produced with passion and precision. The dude can bat it outta the park with hooks that are hotter than hell.

This is clearly a case of the same sort of genius possessed by a small number unsung American pop music composers who absorb everything they hear. How else do you account for the nuance and syncopation on rockers like “Dahlia” or the baroque dream-pop on “But Still.”

Seriously, I was going to write this review as a short one, full of punch and politics, but this album is so damn good, I must continue writing about it as I listen for at least the tenth time this morning.

Caruthers’ skill as a rock arranger comes through on each of the tracks on this 14-piece hot rocks dinner and his powers of introspection are matched by his ability to play. “Some People’s Amusements” is simple enough, but what begins as a dark ballad with sentimental falsetto transitions into an epic pop rock extravaganza, rich with sonic detours as well as musical truths. Caruthers says during that song that “Cordelia finds it bizarre,” but this is a kind of weird that is more than rewarding to engage; it’s absolutely liberating.

Caruthers’ maximalist aesthetic carries much weight on this record, but it all seems to emanate from simple structures that the artist meticulously builds into powerfully stated but totally accessible musical moments, from shimmeringly sad evenings remembered, as on track 3, “Over Coffee,” to the canned no wave-badassery evident on the next tune, “Workers, Artists And Stars.”

Rocanrol is about command and control and the freedom that comes through grasping certain inevitable sonic structures. In Caruthers’ case, the musician has learned the deep secrets used to build that musical ark and uses them joyfully to create his own world. And that rocks.