It's interesting timing indeed that sees the release of Brian Wilson's long-anticipated Smile, a sunny and sugary take on manifest destiny, coinciding with Sleepytime Gorilla Museum's release of The Museum of Natural History, a dark and disturbing celebration of the collapse of the American empire and humanity's impending demise.
"Obviously, the earth would have been better off had humans never evolved," explains bassist and songwriter Dan Rathbun. "If you lose the idea that humans are more important than animals, and more important than plants, then humans have obviously taken over more than their share of the earth and are continuing to do so as species go extinct at an increasing rate. If you take the view that all life is equal, then obviously humans need to be stopped."
An extreme statement, but SGM is not a band that shies away from extremes. Songs on their new album include a hymn devoted to the morning star (Lucifer, for those not brushed up on mythic imagery), an ode to corporate America called "The Creature" that explores how humanity has learned "to dine on fecal matter/ so that The Creature may grow fatter," and even a sympathetic take on the Unabomber, titled "FC: The Freedom Club."
"It's a very sympathetic treatment of Ted Kaczinski," says Rathburn. "The Unabomber Manifesto makes a lot of sense to read the points. Technology in our society has... clearly gone beyond the point of serving humanity. We just use technology and use technology and have completely lost sight of if it's serving us or not."
Not to endorse the actions of Kaczinsky, Rathburn explains, "If you discount the fact that he sent bombs to people, there's nothing crazy about his philosophy."
While SGM's music is certainly political, it's not in an overt or obvious way. Much of the message needs to be understood through careful and repeated listening.
"That comes down to some very strong feelings we have about message vs. art," says Rathburn. "A lot of political music forgets to be artistic-forgets that if you jolt people over the head with a message, there's no incentive for them to listen carefully and inquire. For me, as an artist, it's important to present these topics in a way that's not completely clear, but is intriguing.
"We're more interested in making people think than in telling them what to think."Sleepytime Gorilla Museum maeks people think with The Long and Short of It, Bunky and Viscus Edo at The Casbah, 10 p.m. on Oct. 30. $10. 619-232-HELL.