Released in November 2000, A Fistful of Knuckles is the ninth solo effort by People Like Us, the musical moniker of English collage artist Vicki Bennett. This prolific sound wrangler has also appeared on dozens of compilations and collaborated with such Bay Area luminaries as Wobbly, Negativland, and Matmos. Sadly, Bennett has only a handful of albums still in print, including this most recent one and a just-released anthology titled Recyclopaedia Britannica (put out to coincide with Bennett's current U.S. tour). In any case, Knuckles is a fine place to begin delving into the warped world of People Like Us.
For her recordings Bennett draws almost exclusively from pre-existing material, carrying on a tradition of cut-up dadaism evinced by such artists as John Oswald of Plunderphonics and Iowa City's Tape-beatles. Bennett appropriates and recontextualizes all manner of music and spoken-word samples from records, films, and beyond, constructing social satire that's insidiously infectious and liberally laced with humor. With deft editing and a taste for the preposterous, she manages to draw the farcical and the sublime from the most banal source materials.
PLU releases usually have a unifying theme, and Knuckles is no different — in fact, it's Bennett's western record. All sorts of cowboy culture detritus — from kiddie campfire albums and spaghetti western soundtracks to a clip of Spock crooning on Star Trek — gets loaded into the Bennett blender, with the resulting sonic purée approximating the film Paint Your Wagon on acid.
The effort's also that rarest of animals, an arty experimental disc that's a hoot to listen to. With slapstick sound effects and comic timing, the record often comes off as a laptop update of '40s bandleader Spike Jones. Bennett whips up a motley cast of characters, including yodelers, polka bands, singing ranchers, and some guy endeavoring to drown a bag of puppies. She also delves into chuckle-inducing smutty snippets, chopping up such hoary chestnuts as “Oh Susannah” and “She'll Be Coming 'Round the Mountain.”
Like some comedy album from a David Lynchian parallel universe — a place where “Grandma jumps when she comes” — Knuckles is a discombobulated party record packed with goofy loops that burrow into the subconscious. Effectively synopsizing the cryptic absurdity of this CD's 21 tracks is a pretty tall order, but titles like “Lullablip With Handjob” and “Old Cow Whoopee” do a damn good job. Be sure to bring this one along on your next surrealist campout.