“Some people are worth the right gold. Some people search after the wrong gold.” – The Smudge
The Smudge is the musical persona of enigmatic multidisciplinary artist Bucko Crooks.
Where does the persona end and the person begin? And what does it matter to you?
The Smudge boasts 82 releases on the artist’s bandcamp page [http://thesmudge.bandcamp.com] as well as 153 releases on Crooks’ net label, Galactic Intolerance Records – handily collected at https://archive.org/details/galactic-intolerance-records
It’s a daunting catalog to say the least, made all the more befuddling (bewitching?) by a diverse assortment of approaches to sound manipulation, each pushing the limits of what the average listener may contextualize as music.
Humor is the vital connective tissue across The Smudge’s recordings. Sometimes grotesque and incisive, other times warm and zany, The Smudge attempts to sugarcoat the ipecac message often at the core.
On The Wrong Gold, The Smudge explores pop culture and the skewed reward system it proffers. The liner notes state: “This album is called “The Wrong Gold” because the internet has you craving false feelings. The media has you craving false reality. You need to feel it’s screen outward from forever. You need to cleanse and be genuine. Be true to yourself and feel reality. I am looking in the mirror. I don’t want to fall into the trap of the world. I want to be myself.”
It’s certainly not a new perspective, and the hazards of media oversaturation have been explored in great depth by many artists since pop music’s maturity in the 1960s. The sincerity of The Smudge’s plea, however, grants new artistic life to these concerns – and, more importantly, exhibits the importance of this awareness on a human level.
To this end, I must mention the kindness of the person behind the persona, the pseudonymous Bucko Crooks. Having crossed paths with Bucko several times over the years, I’ve always been taken by his insistence in approaching things with a wide-eyed, though not naive, positivity – something that at times feels lacking in the netherworld of noise/experimental/whatever sounds.
The Wrong Gold begins with some found sound, before coasting into a ramshackle Bobby McFerrin-with-a-424 scat, over which The Smudge bemoans, “it’s too cold/and I’m too old.” “Brian Wilson’s Socks” features a simple piano theme on a Casio, replete with tape hiss and running water – this audio verité presentation continues throughout the EP (and The Smudge’s catalog in general). The solo keyboard and running water both make me wonder if The Smudge is referencing the titular hero – “Surf’s Up” and “Cool, Cool Water” are both hinted at, employing this logic.
On “The Wrong Mind,” The Smudge repeatedly intones the word “gold” and explores The Wrong Gold’s overarching concept, growling, “I’m breaking the wrong gold/I’m breaking the wrong mind.” The track ends with a loop of a distended voice saying “plastic,” the reward for all who chase the wrong gold.
“Milwaukee Vapor” is the centerpiece, a sonic representation of the liner notes’ observation that “some people are vapor into air in downtown Milwaukee.” Layers bend and fold across each other, until the specific sound sources are all but unrecognizable. It is simultaneously claustrophobic and thin as the air into which some denizens of downtown dissipate. The EP closes with “The Ladder”, which is literally a recording of The Smudge’s lighter arrhythmically striking a ladder. Odd as it may sound, the resultant effect is sparse and pastoral and hypnotic, even as it builds in intensity – a fitting epilogue to the proceedings.
The Wrong Gold was released in 2016, and there are dozens of more recent recordings by The Smudge to explore. Hell, I just picked this one at random, inspired by a Facebook post. So while there are likely more representative The Smudge albums, this is as good an entry point as any. Sit down, open your ears, listen, and enjoy some fries.
– Bob Bucko Jr