I tend to think that, in the world of noise or 'avant' rock music, at one end of the spectrum you have the superfast, assaulting, blitzkrieg, kick-you-in-the-skull stuff, and at the other end you have Caroliner. They are the loveable side of noise, not because they lack the ability to make you wince, but because of their elusive, and undeniably playful approach.
Caroliner gets its name from a 19th century folk tale of Caroliner the Singing Bull, a bull that, like a parrot, could sing songs played for it. When its owner had to kill it for food, the bull's inedible parts, wrapped in its own skin, continued to sing. The band's output and activity is informed by this connection to macabre folklore of the 1800s. The music is an engaging mix of 'folk' instrumentation, including banjo and violin, and industrial noise, making it seem antiquated and pastoral, while undeniably modern.
The most immediate influences, to my ears, are Throbbing Gristle and Captain Beefheart. Also, the handmade artwork of this and all Caroliner LPs is an impressive combination of macabre, almost gothic imagery and American debris. For this record, the art includes monochrome images of dismemberment, flayed skin, and deranged cows with a faded, old-style coffee company logo attached.
Other printings of the record replace the coffee logo with similarly faded sections of manuscript. The 9th Caroliner LP, 'Sell Heal Holler,' is packaged inside a diaper bag. Also, the band's members have contrived names meant to recall the same American gothic associations as their artwork, music, and lyrics (Old Ben Spayed, Sore Pony Lore, Chapel Rimmer, etc).
The only real fact I know about Caroliner is that they're from San Francisco, which makes sense given so much playful, 'out-there' music to come from the Bay (Residents, Thinking Fellars). 'Banknotes, Dreams, and Signatures' is the 7th of their 11 LPs, and it includes most of what makes the band great.
The music of side A its limited to the angular, folky, more song-based noise-making, while the B side, my favorite of the two, is an exploration of the more subdued, Throbbing Gristle/drone-influenced Caroliner. It has no song breaks and ends with a lockgroove. The lyrics are often unintelligible, though a lyric sheet is included (a horse named Old Eggwipe, a girl who ate salt pills sewn into her doll's fingers, and a blanket-wearer with bullets instead of teeth are a few of the characters described). I can only compare this to the three or four other Caroliner records that I've heard, but it sounds very fine.
In the end, the aspect of Caroliner that I find so appealing is their approach. Their playful posturing and enigmatic personality only enrich the musical experience. Think of why Beefheart and the Residents are such fun.