In this newest installment, I want to talk about an album that has done more damage to my lifestyle than any other that I can think about.
Gary Wilson’s 1977 album You Think You Really Know Me. Disturbing albums have been made throughout time (see: anything made by Slayer, DNA on DNA or “Frankie Teardrop” by Suicide), but few have been so sincere in their creepiness as this one. The album starts out with a series of swirling, rising synths, setting an intentionally dark, unsettling mood. The screeching guitars and troubling keyboards scar the stereo spectrum in mind-altering ways. This vortex of darkness is released by a smooth drum fill which drops into the second track “You Keep On Looking.” If synth pop had been a thing back in 1977, this song would have been a part of it.
Between the smooth, futuristic sounding keyboards and the rather upbeat tempo of the song, “You Keep On Looking” wouldn’t have set off any real alarms. But, at this point, it’s important to remember that the album is called You Think You Really Know Me. The synth sound presented here, in no way, is misleading in relationship to the rather interesting story of the song which involves Wilson singing about his love for a woman, who won’t let him out of his “prison.” This straightforward style of track only appears at one other place on the album: “Groovy Girls Make Love At The Beach.” The album–and its appeal to me–are better summarized by three songs from the album: “6.4 = Makeout,” “Cindy,” and “Chromium Bitch.”
Let’s start with “6.4 = Makeout.” If you listen to college radio that’s weird/crazy/dangerous enough (read: my own radio show *shameless plug*), there’s a good chance that you’ve already heard this song. If not, “6.4″ is a 5 minute song about making out. That’s not really all that disturbing within itself. What really gives the song that Evel Knievel (RIP) jump over the Caesar’s Palace fountains of insanity is both its sound and its lyrics. The sound of the song is terrifying. The song is based on R&B style keyboards accompanied by solid drum work. The vibe of the song is close to a lounge song if filtered through a psychedelic lens. While parts can song like something from an old couple that plays the hits at a pizza parlor, there are the middle parts where the song breaks form and becomes an abstract amalgamation of laser sounds and various noises.
In addition to this rather interesting mix of sounds, we have Gary Wilson himself. His voice throughout this song is pained. While he is smooth at points, much of the song is based around Wilson pleading his case for his “real” 16-year old girlfriend. While I know that this is a put-on (I did an email interview with Wilson that I will eventually post), there is a sincerity to his voice when he’s pleading that she is actually real. If someone didn’t know better, it would seem as if he has actually done what he speaks of in this song. There’s something awesome yet terrifying to hear him wail at the end of the song that “she’s real” and “she’s so real, goddamn.” It hits you in a really deep spot, making you think that Wilson is a bit of a creeper.
This vibe goes away with later tracks on the album. Rather than the weird creeper that he seems like from “6.4,” Wilson comes across as a lonely, lovesick young man. This comes through better in a track on the middle of the album: “Cindy”. In this song, Wilson talks about a girl named Cindy and why she’s cool. The primary reasons are that you can hang out with her late at night and she always makes out. Being the young, horny male that he is, any girl that makes out is always a plus. This song isn’t made by its lyrics though; it’s made by the rather awesome futuristic porn groove that Wilson locks into, which is replete with slowly played, slightly off-time woodblock and cool synth sounds. As you listen to him talk about Cindy, you find your head subtly nodding along with the track because it’s funky in the most covert of ways. The bass line lurches and the drums are there to give it ambiance while never overtaking the spirit of the track.
This funkiness carries into what might be the best track on the entire album: “Chromium Bitch”. Starting with the typical synth/drum madness, the song settles into its groove with the introduction of some super epic prog-style guitar playing. The song settles down again and just brings that lounge/funk/future sound into focus, building what is one of the smoothest songs that you will ever hear about a guy who is talking about loving a sex robot (seriously, that’s what the song is about). If you think that this song is ironic, you’re probably right, but delivery is important in figuring out irony. Wilson’s voice lacks any sense of irony. He seems totally serious about this robot affair, which makes its appeal just that much greater.
If you’ve gotten this far, you might be wondering why I like this album which sounds like an utter fucking disaster of a record. It’s creepy songs about obsession playing over retro futuristic synths with lounge music accompaniment. I understand that much of listening to things like Gary Wilson, Jandek, and The Shaggs is built on an ironic appreciation of their musical talent and a sincere appreciation of their sincerity in musical craft. My love of this album is based in the fact that You Think You Really Know Me is a really pleasant album to listen to musically.
Yea, it’s weird as fuck, but Wilson does an excellent job of building an atmosphere where the things he sings about seem completely normal and are presented over some of the best instrumentation of an outsider album. Wilson is an objectively EXCELLENT musician. Wilson plays some masterful keyboard parts and the basslines throughout the album are all his and all totally excellent. He can’t really sing so well, but his lyrics and content more than make up for any shortcomings.
For many, the sound of this album will be an acquired taste. For many more, this album will be instantly repulsive. For the few that can see the true mastery on display in this album, You Think You Really Know Me will become one of your favorite albums of all time as well. He’s producing records now not because he wanted to (he retired in the 1980s on his own terms), but because people finally understood the sheer majesty of this album and the vision behind his music. There’s nothing ironic about this album. You love it or you don’t. Many don’t. I do. I think if you like futuristic funk sounds like Dam-Funk or can appreciate John Cage-style musical experimentation (Cage was a huge influence on Wilson, taking him under his wing as a teen), you need to dial this album up immediately.