Dressed Up in God's Clothing

by LUKE BAUMGARTEN & r & & r & & lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & J & lt;/span & im Cotton was a bad kid. His press release says so. His mom couldn't handle him, so when he was just a middle-schooler, she shipped him across the country -- from South Boston to Washington's Maple Valley -- to live with relatives. The first day, he met Jeff Keenan, who recalls playing "grunge on acoustic guitars to the horse on the farm next door."

It's a story the band uses as a form of self-mythology. Too wild for society, the principals were sent into the wilderness -- like Christ or, better yet, Romulus and Remus -- because they were untamable. They were outcasts, connected to civilization by their troubled childhoods but diverging wildly from it because of everything that followed.

Feral Children, essentially. Can you imagine a better name for a dissonant, temperamental five-piece art-rock band with a bat-shit rad stage presence?

Where most attempts at rock aggrandizement are all hair, clothes and pose, Feral Children's music props up the patina of wild-eyed frenzy. Drumsticks clack on snare rims while two-part harmonies give way to hoots and barks and screams. They don't write songs so much as they shake fists at their gods and chant down rain clouds.

Feral Children are nuts. Not dangerous nuts. Nuts in a my-brain-doesn't-work-like-your-brain sense.

& lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & T & lt;/span & he 2005 film Junebug features the work of David Wark, a fictional outsider artist who lives in isolation in North Carolina. The borderline retarded Wark takes elements from history and Christology and his own scrambled innards to make vast, messianic Civil War murals in which soldiers use their own enormous penises as guns. As he's never seen a black man, Wark notes, he gives all the slaves he paints his own face.

The paintings don't make any sense, and yet they feel oddly brilliant.

Inexplicable free association though it may be, every time I listen to Feral Children -- since the first time I heard "Spy/Glass House" more than a year ago -- I'm reminded of those paintings. The band's whispery, screamy, cacophonic indie rock bears a karmic resemblance to those carnage-ridden scenes of outsized phalluses used as muskets and sabers. The screaming and ranting and wailing, the feedback and the discord, reminds me of battlefields less reproduced from historical record than from the flashes of some obliquely brilliant, unfettered imagination.

The result is often chill-inducing, as when Keenan draws out the "We" in "We get dressed up in God's clothing" into an expression of both childlike glee and crazed terror. The barking screams that accompany the chorus of "Spy/Glass House" raise hair in the same way.

When "Baby Joseph Stalin," an anachronistic romp around the 12-year-old mind, devolves into a cloying repetition of Russian 101 ("Da. Da. Nyet. Nyet. Da. Da. Nyet. Nyet."), though, it's like nails on a chalkboard.

And not in a good way.

The downsides are few, though. The majority of Feral Children's debut LP Second to Last Frontier mixes several parts remarkable to every part annoying or half-baked. The question, then, is what to make of such raw, diffusely focused talent. The instant reaction to such a band in an overly ironic world is to assume that songs like "Baby Joseph Stalin" are the result of smart assholes having a laugh at one or more of us.

The more tantalizing prospect, though, is to take the press release at its word. Having been weaned on Daria, My So-Called Life and Nirvana, then left to incubate in isolation for a decade or more with a couple of acoustic guitars and a receptive horse, this band of outsiders developed a viscerally stirring, oddly entrenched, naively luminous perspective on the world.

Feral Children with Space Age Fur and MOM at the Blvd on Friday, Oct. 10, at 10 pm. $5. Call 455-7826.

Green Flannel & Repo Man @ The Kenworthy

Fri., Feb. 3, 7 p.m.
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