(Copyright © 1999 Piero Scaruffi | Terms of use )
'Taint Pluribus 'Taint Unum, 6.5/10
Daddy Has A Tail, 8/10
Effete And Impudent Snobs, 7/10
Peacetika, 6/10
Cunning Stunts, 7/10
Sexy Pee Story, 7/10
Orphan's Tragedy, 7/10
Whorn, 6/10
Old Gold, 7/10 (comp)
Sorry In Pig Minor, 6.5/10
Heroine Sheiks: Rape On The Installment Plan , 6.5/10
Heroine Sheiks: Siamese Pipe , 6.5/10
Heroine Sheiks: Out of Aferica (2005), 6/10
Heroine Sheiks: Journey to the End of the Knife (2008), 6/10

The Cows were both clowns and delinquents at the same time. Their visceral style was full of sarcasm as well as of defiance. The bacchanals ignited by vocalist Shannon Selberg and guitarist Thor Eisenstrager, and by one of the rowdiest rhythm sections in the world, evoked the Stooges and MC5 via the Laughing Hyenas and the Butthole Surfers, but were also a self-parody for the entire alt-rock generation. 'Taint Pluribus 'Taint Unum (1987) and especially Daddy Has A Tail (1989) were merry-go-rounds of (deliberately) grotesque, brutal and perverted affronts. The Cows' riotous sonic nonsense got clad in a sturdier wall of noise on Effete And Impudent Snobs (1990). Their effervescent napalm-like beastly bluesy rave-ups began to betrayed a rootsy element, that slowly but steadily changed the essence of Peacetika (1991) and Cunning Stunts (1992), leading to the mature synthesis of Sexy Pee Story (1993) and Orphan's Tragedy (1994), perhaps the ultimate testament of their mad genius. Their art was the antithesis of elegance.
Full biography.
(Translated from the Italian by Nicole Zimmerman)

The Cows (from Minneapolis) were formed when the historic punk bands Husker Du and Replacements had already gone down into history. The group flourished as hometown favorites with singer Shannon Selberg and guitarist Thor Eisentrager but their sound was closer to the hard-core of the mid-west, in particular groups called Laughing Hyenas and Killdozer that, at the end of the 80’s, had represented the brutal sounds of the great bands like Detroit, Stooges, and MC5, further updating the brutality of the punk era.

The early Cows boasted the fury of those musical delinquents but they did not stop there. The spirit in which their albums were assembled and played was more reminiscent of the creative folly of the 60’s than of the concise and gloomy anger of punk music. The Cows’ albums were always disturbing carnivals of madness, colossal harmonic games, and disruptive sounds.

Their first album, ’Tainy Pluribus ‘Taint Unum (Treehouse, 1987) was one of the noisiest albums ever. A riotous mass of screaming and crazy beats constantly submerged in the titanic noise of the guitar by Thor Eisenstrager. Mother was a blasphemous hymn and totally askew. Yellowbelly, Summertime Bone, and Cow Jazz were as well. Compared to the Cows, the Butthole Surfers were an orchestra playing classical music.

Veined by the same blasphemy and chaos, troubling and abrasive, their next album Daddy Has A Tail (Amphetamine Reptile, 1989) took the form of a rock song post-hardcore, relatively structured and keeping to the essentials. The components of their music have inherited the worst vices of rock and roll (coarseness, vulgarity, and carelessness), and these were applied in a more or less casual manner to the harmonic structure derived from their dark music. The long blues of Park my Konk had much lilting, and was bound by strong distortions, and shaken by a sudden epileptic and tribal improvisation, and it showed. Repelling deformity, like in Bum In The Alley and Shaking (with Eisentrager's epic solo), mixed with Birthday Party, Beasts Of Bourbon, Cramps, and Feedtime. This heterodox style stood out in their hard-rock songs, such as Camouflage Monkey, the hard-core escape of I Miss Her Beer, and garage-rock hymns like By The Throat, tracks that were horrifically out of tune and sung with the grace of a bouncer. However, their authentic spirit of anarchy in rock stood out in their frenzied, drunken revelry Sugar (omitted on the CD). Shannon’s voice echoes the great “shouters” as much as the garage rockers. Thor’s guitar could not have been more inelegant and imprecise, but in a commendable manner, in his role as an “electrical shock”, with a repertoire reduced to primordial noises. The rhythm section of Kevin Rutmanis (bass) and Norm Rogers (drums) have given the group a certain knack and undoubted versatility (at least in the drunken execution of the tracks).

Effete And Impudent Snobs (Amphetamine Reptile, 1990) began to put some order in the fray. Some tracks on the album paid homage in the most respectful manner to cultural radicals: the blues shuffle of Dirty Leg, the discordant boogie of Little Bit, and the unleashed square-dance of Cartoon Corral. There was even an instrumental novelty, The Emigrant Song, on which Cows once again mixed county, western, and ragtime (naturally in their own way). Memorial and Preyed On were oases of peace among the infernal noise. However, the arrangements were always creepy, rough, harsh, wiry, and acidic to the bitter end; and in the end, the triumphant pieces were absurd: the demented thrash of Whitey In The Woodpile, the uproar of Big Mickey (similar to MC5), and above all, the monumental blues of Nancy Boy Cocaine Whore Blues, played at full volume with Hendrix style accents and armored rhythms. Overall, the album was torrential and traumatic like the previous albums but better produced and played.

Peacetika (Amphetamine Reptile, 1991) signaled a reformation, one in which the group abandoned the more radical extremism in favor of artistic ambitions. Songs like The Man did not boast of decibels and distortions like those songs that preceded it: it conserved psychotic convulsions and underclass anger, but had an almost unconscious heavy-metal. The clanking rock and roll of Good Cop diluted the punk impulse for a time. Hitting The Wall was a rough and wild garage-rock, the only track worthy of their mangled sounds, 3-Way Lisa stole a bass riff from Cream, and the title-track, if nothing else, was an instrumental jam of the free-jazz style by maniacs.

The new mission was clearly indicated on the album Cunning Stunts (Amphetamine Reptile, 1992): shamelessly capitalizing on the successful pairing of brutal sounds and perverse lyrics. Most of the album flashes by at supersonic speed, whether the grotesque hard-rock fanfare of Heave Ho or the space-voodoobilly of The Woman Inside or the atonal, dislocated anthem of Everybody. And over all the rest towers one of their most develish rock'n'roll mayhems, Walks Alone, like the Cramps meeting the Ten Years After at Woodstock. But not everyhting was burning tires and slashing daggers: the martial boogie of Mr Cancelled, the waltzing, melodic instrumental Midnight Cowboy, growling echoes of the Seeds (Mine) and half-baked imitations of the Stooges (Down Below) populate the album like worms on a dead corpse.
Selberg, a little bit of “Bukowski” of Minneapolis and a good deal “ham actor” of the same, and certainly a histrionic figure of the USA province, had reached the zenith of his narrative skills. Many considered this album their masterpiece, but a bit of their infernal genius had been lost in the commotion.
While the group did not lose its class, albums like this one and the next - Sexy Pee Story (from 1993) were typical within the regression of the genre as it moved towards the mainstream (as can be seen with the Butthole Surfers).

However, Sexy Pee Story, if nothing else, had a rowdy inspiration, a level of folly that was truly genius, and execution totally outside the norm. The quartet searched the thick darkness of the genres, defacing them along the way: rockabilly (the great pantomime of Uptown Suckers), be-bop (the title track), soul (Mrs. Cancelled) and, in one of the most sensational semiotic reversals, even hard-core, from which they took their actions (Blown). These abominations, all venial, including the frequent walls of noise in Shipbeard and furious tribalism in Ch (seemingly incoherent but in reality connected by a subtle game of polyrhythm of boogie and thrash as well as maniacal distortions) were glorious, but they also enforced the concentrated whirling of screaming and noise of 39 Lashes and the continuous flow of distortions in The Ouch Cube, two of their most extreme chaotic sounds ever.

Orphan’s Tragedy (Amphetamine Reptile, 1994) followed the directives of a troubling and chaotic music but at the same time was complete and compact. Such was the track Cow Island on which they flow into a existential crisis with a saloon sort of feel, their new trademark; or the breathtaking rockabilly of The Bucket, or the epileptic swinging of I’m Both (like Horton Heat), or the unending square-dance style of Baby Love. If the Cows had a moral it could be found in the putrid blues of Pussy Is A Monarchy (which was also a porno-gothic story) and Pickled Garbage Soup, or in the tumultuous finale Smell Shelf, 6 minutes of derelict free-jazz. Over the years the strong recording by Selberg became a bit hazy, the Hendrix style show by Eisentrager became, if possible, more theatrical and deafening, like in the title track. Signaling this new period were, above all, the melodies: deeply immersed in dark noise, Allergic To Myself and My Bob did not have any reason to envy Nirvana.

At this point the drummer Freddy Votel came aboard, a living legend in Minneapolis (he was already with Television Before Christ on the albums Ex Cathedra and TVBC). Whorn (Amphetamine Reptile, 1996) was more vulgar and insane but largely a disappointment. The great initial progression and finale of Divorcee Moore were the best statements by the group. A Gift Called Life was one of their typical psychotic themes. A frantic tribalism and the whining of the saxophone free-jazz fired up A Oven. Mas No Mas advances to a frantic boogie rhythm with awkward wincing guitar improvisations. However, the slower and more melodic tracks struggle.

Cows represented the demented fringe of punk-rock in Minneapolis during the 90’s. Daddy Has A Tail, Effete And Impudent Snobs, and Peacetika constitute the heart of their story. It was truly these 3 albums (with the omission of about 6 or 7 tracks) which were overhauled and corrected to produce Old Gold (Amphetamine Reptile, 1996). After this noisy trilogy would come the more accessible albums Cunning Stunts, Sexy Pee Story, and Orphan’s Tragedy, albums of the highest level which positioned Cows among the great groups of our time.

Selberg must be ranked among the great vocalists of rock music.

I Cows si formarono a Minneapolis quando la storica scuola punk di Husker Du e Replacements era gia` passata alla storia. Il rigoglio locale favori` certamente il gruppo del cantante Shannon Selberg e del chitarrista Thor Eisenstrager, ma il loro sound era piu` vicino all'hardcore del Midwest, in particolare a gruppi come Laughing Hyenas e Killdozer che, alla fine degli anni '80, avevano riproposto le efferatezze sonore dei grandi di Detroit, Stooges e MC5, aggiornate all'ulteriore efferatezza dell'era punk.

I primi Cows vantavano la furia esecutiva di quei delinquenti musicali, ma non si fermavano li`. Lo spirito con cui quei dischi erano assemblati e suonati ricordava la follia creativa dei freak degli anni '60, piu` che la concisa e tetragona rabbia dei punk. I dischi dei Cows saranno sempre carnevali di follie frastornanti, giostre di colossali boutade armoniche, dirompenti grotteschi sonori.

Il primo album, 'Taint Pluribus 'Taint Unum (Treehouse, 1987) e` in effetti uno dei piu` chiassosi di quegli anni, un coacervo riotous di urla e di battiti folli costantemente sommerso dal rumore titanico della chitarra di Thor Eisenstrager. Mother e` un inno blasfemo e tutto sbilenco. Yellowbelly, Summertime Bone, Cow JAzz non sono da meno. Al confronto i Butthole Surfers sono un'orchestra di musica classica.

Per quanto venata dalla stessa vena blasfema e caotica, fracassona e abrasiva, sul successivo Daddy Has A Tail (Amphetamine Reptile, 1989) prende forma una canzone rock del dopo-hardcore, relativamente strutturata ed essenziale. Le schegge di bomba che lo compongono hanno ereditato i vizi peggiori del rock and roll (sguaiataggine, pressapochismo, volgarita`) e li applicano in maniera piu` o meno casuale a strutture armoniche che derivano dalla musica nera. Il lungo blues di Part My Konk, cadenzatissimo, sotteso da una forte distorsione, scosso da un'improvvisa epilessi tribale, e` li` a dimostrarlo. Deformita` repellenti come Bum In The Alley e Shaking (con assolo epico di Eisentrager) mescolano Birthday Party, Beasts Of Bourbon , Cramps e Feedtime. Questo stile eterodosso si incarna in canzoni hard-rock come Camouflage Monkey, fughe hardcore come I Miss Her Beer, inni da garage-rock come By The Throat, brani che sono sempre sfregiati da scordature raccapriccianti e cantati con la grazia di un buttafuori. Ma il loro autentico spirito di anarchici del rock viene a galla semmai in baccanali forsennati come Sugar (omessa dall'edizione su CD).
La voce di Shannon Selberg riecheggia tanto i grandi shouter neri quanto i selvaggi rocker bianchi dei garage. La chitarra di Thor Eisentrager non potrebbe essere meno elegante e piu` approssimativa, ma svolge in maniera encomiabile il suo ruolo di scossa elettrica con un repertorio estremamente ridotto di rumori primordiali. La sezione ritmica di Kevin Rutmanis (basso) e Norm Rogers (batteria) ha invece dalla sua una certa destrezza e un'indubbia versatilita` (perlomeno nell'inseguire gli svolgimenti ubriachi dei brani).

Effete And Impudent Snobs (Amphetamine Reptile, 1990) comincia a mettere ordine nella mischia. C'e` persino una novelty strumentale, The Emigrant Song, nella quale i Cows rimescolano country & western e ragtime (naturalmente alla loro maniera). Memorial e Preyed On sono oasi di pace nel rumore infernale. Ma gli arrangiamenti sono sempre da far accapponare la pelle, ruvidi, aspri, ispidi ed "acidi" ad oltranza; e alla fine a trionfare sono di nuovo i pezzi lunatici: il thrash demenziale di Whitey In The Woodpile, la baraonda alla MC5 di Big Mickey e soprattutto il monumentale blues di Nancy Boy Cocaine Whore Blues, suonato a tutto volume con accenti "hendrixiani" e cadenze da panzer. Nell'insieme l'album e` torrenziale e traumatico come i precedenti, ma meglio suonato e prodotto.

Peacetika (Amphetamine Reptile, 1991) segnala invece un improvviso ravvedimento dei ragazzi, i quali abbandonano gli estremismi piu` radicali a favore di ambizioni artistiche. Canzoni come The Man non valgono un centesimo in decibel e distorsioni di quelle che le hanno precedute: ne conservano le convulsioni psicotiche e la rabbia sottoproletaria, ma accanto a sincopi quasi heavy metal. Lo sferragliante rock and roll di Good Cop annacqua l'impeto punk di un tempo. Svettano Hitting The Wall, un rozzo e selvaggio garage-rock, l'unica traccia davvero degna dei loro massacri sonori, 3-Way Lisa, che ruba il riff di basso ai Cream, e e la title-track, che, se non altro, e` una jam strumentale di un free-jazz da matti del manicomio.

La nuova missione e` chiaramente indicata da Cunning Stunts (Amphetamine Reptile, 1992): capitalizzare spudoratamente sull'accoppiata vincente "suoni brutali/ liriche perverse". L'album sfoggia pur sempre episodi di grande valore, come Walks Alone, un rockabilly scatenatissimo, e The Woman Inside, uno dei loro nonsense tribali. Non sono venute meno le dosi di caos e frenesia, quel "moto browniano" di suoni che riesce in qualche modo a esibire un'identita` armonica (Heave Ho e Everythingi, chiassosi e scalcinati come ai bei tempi). Selberg, piccolo Bukowski di Minneapolis, e grande istrione di Provincia, e` anzi all'apice delle sue capacita` narrative. Molto considerano questo il loro capolavoro, ma qualcosa dell'infernale genio degli esordi di era perso.

Pur non avendo perso la classe, album come questo e il successivo Sexy Pee Story del 1993 sono tipici della generale regressione del genere verso il mainstream (Butthole Surfers docet).
Ma Sexy Pee Story, se non altro, vanta un'ispirazione scalmanata, un livello di follia davvero geniale e un'esecuzione tutta fuori dai canoni. Il quartetto procede a tentoni in una fitta oscurita` di generi, deturpando lungo il percorso rockabilly (grandiosa la pantomima di Uptown Suckers), bebop (la title-track), soul (Mrs Cancelled) e, in uno dei capovolgimenti semiotici piu` sensazionali, persino l'hardcore stesso da cui avevano preso le mosse (Blown). Su questi abomini, tutto sommato veniali, svettano la gloriosa, spessissima, muraglia di rumore di Shitbeard e il tribalismo forsennato di Ch (apparentemente tutto sgangherato, in realta` sotteso da un subdolo gioco di poliritmi boogie/thrash e di distorsioni maniacali); ma si fanno rispettare anche il vorticoso concentrato di urla e baccano di 39 Lashes e il flusso continuo di distorsioni di The Ouch Cube, due dei loro pandemoni sonori piu` estremi di sempre.

Anche Orphan's Tragedy (Amphetamine Reptile, 1994) segue quelle direttive di musica fracassona e caotica, ma al tempo stesso compiuta e compatta. Tant'e` che sono brani come Cow Island, in cui i Cows discettano di una crisi esistenziale con un piglio da saloon, il loro nuovo marchio di fabbrica; o il rockabilly mozzafiato di The Bucket, o l'epilessi swingante di I'm Both (alla Horton Heat), o la quadriglia sfinente di Baby Love; anche se forse la morale dei Cows si trova nei blues putrefatti di Pussy Is A Monarchy (che e` anche un racconto porno-gotico) e Pickled Garbage Soup, o nel tumulto finale di Smell Shelf, sei minuti di un derelitto free-jazz. Se con gli anni il registro da leone di Selberg si e` un po' appannato, gli show "hendrixiani" di Eisentrager sono diventati se possibile ancor piu` teatrali e assordanti, come nella title-track. A segnare questo nuovo periodo sono soprattutto le melodie: per quanto immerse in rumore scurissimo, Allergic To Myself e My Bob non hanno nulla da invidiare ai Nirvana.

A questo punto i Cows assorbono il batterista Freddy Votel, una leggenda vivente di Minneapolis (lo era gia` nei Television Before Christ, titolari di due album Ex Cathedra e TVBC). Whorn (Amphetamine Reptile, 1996) e` a tratti piu` sguaiato e dissennato, ma in gran parte delude. La grande progressione iniziale e il grande bailamme finale di Divorcee Moore sono il miglior manifesto del gruppo. A Gift called Life e` uno dei loro tipici leitmotiv psicotici. Un tribalismo forsennato e i guaiti di un sassofono free jazz infuocano A Oven. Mas No Mas avanza a un frenetico ritmo boogie con improvvisi sussulti sgraziati delle chitarre. Stentano pero` i brani lenti e quelli melodici.

I Cows hanno rappresentato negli anni '90 la frangia demenziale del punkrock di Minneapolis. Daddy Has A Tail, Effete And Impudent Snobs e Peacetika costituiscono comunque il cuore della vicenda. E proprio questi tre album (con l'omissione di giusto sei/sette brani) vengono riveduti e corretti in studio per dar luogo a Old Gold (Amphetamine Reptile, 1996). Dopo questa trilogia del chiasso piu` sguaiato, sara` la stagione piu` accessibile di Cunning Stunts, Sexy Pee Story, Orphan's Tragedy, dischi ancora di elevatissimo livello che li pongono fra i grandi gruppi del nostro tempo.

Selberg va annoverato fra i grandi vocalist della musica rock.

Selberg moved to New York and virtually shut down the Cows. Their last album, Sorry In Pig Minor (Amphetamine Reptile, 1998), is marked by ideological confusion. More varied than ever, quieter than ever, far more subdued and conceptual, and farther than ever from their punk roots, the sound now features (too) normalized vocals and vastly tamed guitars. The highlight is the rhythm. No I'm Not Coming Out approaches the grotesque storytelling of Pere Ubu (wailing synth, syncopated drumming). The instrumental Dear Dad is a demented deconstruction of the genre of movie themes. El Shiska is deranged tex-mex with trumpet, and Felon Of Troy is a frenzied jam of free jazz. But, for a rock and roll band of this caliber, the stylistic variety is counterproductive. Even the visceral garage rhythm and blues of Death In The Tall Weeds and Salive Of The Fittest is a pale imitation of their past fury.
The Cows have lost most of their raucous energy, although greatly improved in sophistication.
(Translation by/ Tradotto da Walter Consonni)

Selberg si è trasferito a New York e ha sciolto i Cows. Il loro ultimo album, Sorry In Pig Minor (Amphetamine Reptile, 1998), è caratterizzato dalla confusione ideologica. Più vario e tranquillo che mai, molto più controllato e concettuale, e più lontano che mai dalle loro radici punk, il sound evidenzia ora voci normalizzate (troppo) e chitarre ampiamente addomesticate. Il momento saliente è rappresentato dal ritmo. No I'm Not Coming Out si avvicina al grottesco storytelling dei Pere Ubu (sintetizzatore lamentoso, drumming sincopato). Lo strumentale Dear Dad è una destrutturazione demente del genere dei temi conduttori del cinema. El Shiska è uno sconcertante tex-mex con la tromba, e Felon Of Troy è una frenetica jam free jazz. Ma, per una rock and roll band di questo calibro, la varietà stilistica è controproducente. Persino il viscerale garage rhythm and blues di Death In The Tall Weeds e Salive Of The Fittest rappresentano una sbiadita imitazione della furia che li caratterizzava in passato.
I Cows hanno perso gran parte della loro aspra energia, benchè grandemente migliorati in quanto a ricercatezza.

When the band increases speed and volume, it has few rivals. That was the idea when the Cows integrated the spasmodic enthusiasm of hard-core and the wiry harmonies of Texana psychedelia and married the empty emotion of MC5. The singing of Selberg and a repertoire of minor tricks allowed the Cows to distinguish themselves clearly from the other “noise-makers” at the beginning of the 90’s. The monumental chaos of the first 3 albums was due to the amateur arrangement and production. However, both were better in the second round of their career. These discordant storms will trump any imitators. Quando il complesso prende velocita` e volume, ha sempre avuto pochi rivali. L'idea e` quella di integrare la foga spasmodica dell'hardcore e le armonie ispide della psichedelia texana, e sposarle al vuoto emotivo degli MC5. Il canto libero di Selberg e il repertorio tutt'altro che trascurabile di trucchi consentono ai Cows di distinguersi nettamente dagli altri "rumoristi" in circolazione al principio dei Novanta. Il caos monumentale dei primi tre album, arrangiati e prodotti da cani, era pero` superiore alla seconda fase, piu` curata, della loro carriera. Quelle tempeste cacofoniche faranno impallidire molti imitatori.
After the band broke up, Kevin Rutmanis joined the Melvins, while Shannon Selberg and Norman Westberg (formerly of Swans) formed Heroine Sheiks and recorded a single in 1999. Rape On The Installment Plan (Reptilian, 2001), with John Fell on drums, kept that promise: the band sounds like the Swans playing wild Cows-ian romps or the Cows playing brainy noise-rock.

Siamese Pipe (Rubric, 2002), Heroine Sheiks' second album, delivered another dose of contagious hysteria. Songs overflow with sarcasm and confrontation (Mass Suicide). The band is frantic and visceral (Army Brat, Open You Up). Selberg indulges in the most despicable antics (Grab the Wheel). Overall, the album is a monster of ferocity and seems to play forever.

Heroine Sheiks' Out of Aferica (Reptilian, 2005) and Journey to the End of the Knife (Amphetamine Reptile, 2008) continued Selberg's virulent, dissonant albeit lucid program (the latter's title might be an appropriate metaphor to describe his entire career).

(Translation by/ Tradotto da xxx)

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