Looking back over the musical highlights of 2011 for The Wire magazine’s annual Rewind feature, The Ex’s Terrie Hessels described Cactus Truck, a band I’d never heard of, as his discovery of the year. Having finally heard the band’s debut album, I can see where he was coming from. As a studio recording it probably doesn’t capture the full thrill of the Cactus Truck live experience, but it makes a fine fist of the attempt.
Cactus Truck is a lash-tight trio, two thirds Dutch, one third American. Jasper Stadhousers is credited with both guitar and bass tracks, but when they play live I guess it’s mostly bass that wins out. The back cover shows him playing an electric instrument, but his sound here resonates with the deep taut steel-on-wood thrum of an artfully pummelled contrabass. The other Cactus Truckers are John Dikeman soprano, tenor and baritone saxophones, and Onno Govaert drums.
The closest point of comparison is probably Zu with Mats Gustafsson, but that doesn’t quite nail it. Imagine a more feral and hardcore Ex (don’t expect to hear Ethiopian rhythms or anyone guesting on cello here), something more tightly focused than the ‘Ex Guitars meet Nilssen-Love/Vandermark Duo’ project Lean Left, and more scabrous than Nilssen-Love trading blows with sax titan Peter Brötzmann (and those are not sax/drum sound/style comparisons I’d make lightly).
Brand New is lean. Its running time extends to just 25 minutes across five bands of vinyl, or thirty minutes on CD with two bonus tracks. LP side one is all “Aporia”, which at 10:38 gives us Cactus Truck stretching out, mapping their hardscrabble sonic terrain. Sometimes it’s with tenderness in heir hearts, but more often venting pent-up aggression. Despite the album’s overall ferocity however, it’s not inhuman as hardcore can sometimes be, but rather impassioned. The trio’s raw punker energy disguises their evidently keen musical intelligence.
Three twenty-second-long tracks are much more brutally direct, but they are also compacted compositions, not just heads-down thrash. Well, perhaps CD climax “La la la la Labia Time!” is a bit thrashy, but with a title like that, who cares. Ditto the other bonus track, a staccato stabbing, ultimately rip-snorting number with time for a doleful sax interlude, titled “The Snotgreen Sea, the Scrotumtightening Sea”. It’s actually a great track, and any vinyl fetishists who buy this album should certainly search it out on download. For anyone else, it would make for a great taster.