Now living in Portland, Oregon, Fernando Viciconte was born in Argentina but moved with his family to LA at an early age. In his teens he played the local LA scene in a band called Monkey Paw before launching a solo career in the mid 1990s. With a series of critically acclaimed albums under his belt he released what many consider to be a highpoint, Leave The Radio On, in 2010 with contributions from the likes of Peter Buck and Scott McCaughey and members of Richmond Fontaine. Dogged by ill health for several years, nevertheless Viciconte toured the UK and Ireland on several occasions a few years back, receiving rave notices and building up a fan base here. Traitors Table, a much more stripped back affair than Leave The Radio On, is sure to build on the goodwill and affection gained on those tours, its surefooted mix of garage rock, psychedelia and power pop driving an album brimful of anger.
Like Alejandro Escovedo, Viciconte is an immigrant in the US and of course, in this day and age that’s not a comfortable position. While Escovido used an entire album to address this, Viciconte dots his thoughts here and there throughout Traitor’s Table but when he tackles it it’s with a sense of bile and fury. He goes for the jugular from the start with the galloping bass and drums of Division Lines, a song which screams of injustice and berates the powers that be who see unity as a crime and seek to divide us. As Viciconte sneers the words the enemy he reminds one of Joe Strummer who would also sneer at the NME while the vicious descending melody recalls some of Syd Barrett’s work with Pink Floyd such as on Vegetable Man and Interstellar Overdrive. No Deal rumbles into view with an attitude. To a sluggish, almost power trio workout backing Viciconte gets all apocalyptic on us singing about eliminating the candidate – “He’s not real,” as, “Armies are gathering serving a wicked king, so kneel.” Sung from the perspective of a sniper who, in an act of murder, is actually serving good, this is powerful stuff. On a more personal note, Viciconte delves into his own history as an immigrant on I Don’t Know with the telling lines, “I was brought here as a child By no fault of my own I was warned to keep my mouth shut So no one could ever know I couldn’t speak the language So I started to sing. I guess that I needed the attention And all the love that it brings.” Fittingly, he delivers this as if he were fronting The Psychedelic Furs, one of the bands presumably who caught his attention when he began his musical career.
Finally, Viciconte closes the album with Turned Away, initially a straightforward acoustic guitar based ballad, the lines, “Are you hearing voices that whisper in your ear? Are you waiting for the chance to make them disappear?” are chillingly reminiscent of pogroms over the centuries. Mid way through, the song erupts in a chaos of squalling electric guitars and feedback, an aural equivalent of Max Ernst’s painting, Europe After The Rain.
Reining in the terror, Viciconte allows the album some prettier moments, reminding one that he is a master of melody. There are echoes of The Beatles on The Company and on Is This Normal, the former a loveable piano led jaunt, the latter much more psychedelic in a Tomorrow Never Knows way, amplified by the insertion of vintage reportage of an “ordinary” housewife taking LSD for a research study in the black and white 1950s. Quite astounding. Next up there’s the pumping power pop of The Longest Wait , an exquisite love song regarding a pair dreaming of the good life in Hey Darlene and then a pair of dreamlike acoustic meanderings in These Are The Days and Thirsty Man, both quite intoxicating.
Recorded by Viciconte and his long time buddy, Luther Russell in a shack on a four-track recorder in a week long burst of activity, Traitors Table is an audacious album. An iron glove in a velvet fist, it draws you in as it daintily displays its melodies and then hits you with some fearsome realities. Definitely an album to have.