Slim Cessna's Auto Club - An Introduction for Young and Old Europe (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick

Slim Cessna's Auto Club

An Introduction for Young and Old Europe (2015)


I haven’t had an experience listening to a new band for the first time like this in quite a while. Maybe the onus is on me, but a lot of new music that comes my way can usually be pretty easily put into a genre box or series of sub-genre boxes: this is punk, that’s folk, this here’s folk punk, this is hardcore, etc. My brain now automatically registers new music by genre immediately on first listen. But when I pressed play on Slim Cessna’s Auto Club's An Introduction for Young and Old Europe, my brain couldn’t place it. My instant reaction: I’m not sure what this is, but I like this a fucking lot.

Slim Cessna and gang are labeled “gothic Americana”, probably for the sake of convenience, but that’s pretty limiting in terms of what they actually play. They do serve up a creepy country-western sound in large rations that rivals some of the best in Murder By Death’s discography. But the band’s range goes beyond that, hitting twangs of bluegrass and hillbilly folk, rock and roll, spirituals, and stranger categories that are harder to recognize. The focal point of all songs on the record is the interplay between the two vocalists, Slim Cessna and Munly Munly. They seem to represent good and evil, respectively, and spend each track trading lyrical tales, harmonizing, and doing some good old-fashioned storytelling. I’d go on, but I suggest just reading the biography on the band’s website; it provides a taste of the bands goofy, horror-show carnival style and is one of the more entertaining bios I’ve ever read. It includes a fitting Jello Biafra quote: Slim Cessna’s Auto Club is “the country band that plays the bar at the end of the world”.

An Introduction for Young and Old Europe is a retrospective of a ton of material from the band’s twenty year existence, and as such, it’s long (an hour and eighteen minutes to be exact), but the band’s sound is so distinctive that it feels pretty cohesive and never drags. The opener, “This Is How We Do Things in the Country” is itself an appropriate introduction to how the band does things. It’s a gothic country song that’s fast-paced and twangy, recounting the narrator’s murderous proclivities. Other highlights include “Children of the Lord”, an eerie take on the classic children’s praise song, and “He, Roger Williams”, a goofy shuffle exploring the life of the Protestant theologian. God, the devil, and spirituality are all heavily surveyed on An Introduction for Young and Old Europe, but you’re never quite sure where the record and band stands as a whole. Is this a Bible-thumping Christian record? Is it a mockery of Christianity? Most likely, it’s simply an examination of heavy religious ideas for theatrical effect. Any way it’s sliced, the record is creepy, engrossing and enjoyable.

The double LP comes with a DVD of the band’s 20th anniversary live performance at the Lion’s Lair in Denver, and it’s quite possibly as essential as the record itself. Though the record is phenomenal, the band’s live show clearly seems to be its greatest strength. For the uninitiated listener like me, it places the music in context of the band’s carnival-esque performances and puts a creepy face to the haunting voices of Slim Cessna and Munly Munly. It’s also just a terrific live performance, decently captured, and with commendable sound quality.

Slim Cessna’s Auto Club brings a good deal of theatricality into the music they perform, and it results in a strange and enjoyable masterpiece that expands the confines of gothic-Americana. An Introduction For Young and Old Europe is the perfect introduction to the band itself and a great escape from the limits of genre definition.