Sun City Girls - Beginnings Dark (Enterruption 1-Sided LP) / Djinn Funnel (Nashazphone LP)

The Sun City Girls are in some state of limbo, with the sad news of longtime member Charlie Gocher's passing this past February. No more live shows and no new recordings under the trio's name, but there will be, according to Alan and Richard Bishop, unreleased albums and videos, not to mention inevitable reissues (I believe Abduction and Majora are two labels in the process of reissuing hither-to out-of-print SCG material). "Beginnings Dark" is in an equivalent state of limbo, being that it's not really a new recording and not really a reissue either. "Beginnings Dark" takes its name from the Girls' 1993 Majora LP "Bright Surroundings Dark Beginnings", and its one playable side features a dramatically reworked version of "The Venerable Song (The Meaning of Which is No Longer Known)" from that very LP. "Beginnings Dark" was, according to the Girls' own website, "brought to our attention by recent advances in reverse technologies"...tongue firmly in cheek, I'm sure. But the rub is that the LP itself can be played two ways. Since the groove is cut from the inside out, you can reverse your turntable if you're so inclined and hear "Beginnings Dark" in its original form - which is to say, as "The Venerable Song". Or you can let your stylus plow through the grooves and hear it in its altered form, although that results in a whole lot ka-klunkage on mine. And while "The Venerable Song" is excellent in its own right - a jaw-rusting slog through Eastern spirituals prodded by a never-ending snaking Alan Bishop bassline, inspired Gocher drumming that flips between subtly shamanistic and violently urgent, spectre-evoking gibberish (or not) vocal wails from either/or - I'm starting to wonder if I don't prefer hearing it in reverse. Maybe it's just because I've played it so many times and it finally got under my skin or if it's just because it's something new, but holy smokes. You would think from the end result that maybe it was meant to be heard like this all along. The biggest revelation is the bassline, which transforms what was once a shady if not uninviting tick-tocking into a dark, alienating wooze, serving as the instigator for the fever-dream hallucinations the rest of the track stirs up. What's equally impressive is how little changes: the vocals remain alarmingly consistent with the yelps and yowls of the original's, if not with a bit more of an "E.T. speaking in tongues while in the thralls of an epileptic seizure" air to them, and Gocher's rapidfire percussion blows still come out of nowhere to staple you to the floor on occasion (the shakers and cymbal strokes a bit harder to discern), and the flute sounds almost exactly as it did played forward, with only the slightest notes askew like it was being wielded by, say, Keiji Haino. However, all these novelties can be achieved by ripping or downloading "The Venerable Song" and reversing it on your computer. So what's the point? Well I don't want to imply that the packaging takes precedence over the music 'cause that's just tacky, but you certainly get your $40 (I said $40) worth from Enterruption. Packaged inside the die-cut foil stamped cover you see above are two LP sleeves - one has the LP packed inside Indian Bingo's "Scatological" sleeve (as least mine did - what's the story there?) and it's worth a mention that the B-side of this kinda-marbled white vinyl has a gorgeous silkscreen print of some multi-limbed diety I'm too uneducated to recognize. The other sleeve is the "real" one containing a whole host of treats - three or four mind-scrambling black and white glossies, "We Terrorize the Sun" critical summation/overview of the Girls' career circa 1999 by Bonnie Banks, a couple of sticker sheets of art from the sleeve, two heavy cardstock color expansions on the sleeve art a large black and white group shot and a lovely photo of the young Charlie Gocher, as of October 1963. Phew...like I said, it's a real treat to unfold. And it would be at least of some consolation to you if you didn't appreciate spending 36 clams on a song you already own played in reverse, but it's all gravy to me. Because I'm the backwards man, the backwards man, I can run back as fast as you can.

I know "Djinn Funnel" came out last year and you know all about it and you've already heard it so I won't go into too much depth, but when Hicham of Nashazphone sent in his label's two latest offerings, he included this one too. Because he's a sweetheart. So the least I can do is offer a few of my thoughts on it. There's five tracks on "Djinn Funnel", recorded between 1999 and 2001, and they're the Girls like I've never been familiar with em before. I don't profess to know nearly the amount of SCG material as I'm sure many out there do but this one stumped me hard, if we were Invisible Jukeboxing I'd have been as out of my element as Marianne Faithful trying to nail down an MF Doom b-side. All these five are Sun City Girls playing the blues, playing the heavy electric blooz psych rock blues that is. "Nites of Malta" opens the set with a funky, swishing drumline and stoned, radio-ed nasal voice drip, with an absolutely searing Rick Bishop solo what kinda brings to mind Michio Kurihara shredding things on the record he did with Boris...'cept with the Eastern hookah haze the Girls often tread in. It ends with an explosive, thrashing chorus of screaming feedback (and screaming voices) and somehow the LP keeps getting better from there. If "Djinn Funnel" is the band's "Paranoid" - heavy, stoned and blues-informed - then "Dukun Degeneration" is its "Planet Caravan" with the echo of Ozzy's vocals replaced with noise distortion from Rick's guitar as Alan's struggles to keep things above water with melting, gelatinous bass fuzz. But it's Rick again who steers the songs up to and over the brink with more destructive, almost metal moves on "Dark Nectar", while he shears up in almost Mizutani-like fashion with another Eastern bent on "Red Sea Blues", an even closer comparison would be Acid Mothers Temple and the Eastern-influenced psychedelics they dredge up from time to time. The best is saved for last on the 12-minute epic finale "Grand Trunk (Drifters of the Grand Trunk)". Moving at a meditative pace and operating off of a rhythm section composed of Gocher's cyclical cymbal shots and Alan's gently loping, looping bass rhythm, the Girls hit a sound not at all unlike what OM put together on "Conference of the Birds" with a bit more in the way of subtly pushed, acid-washed guitar licks and airy vocals. Other reference points coult be Quicksilver Messenger Service or the Grateful Dead. And yeah the Sun City Girls playing in line with classic 70's psych sounds every bit as good as you'd hope. Only problem is with "Djinn Funnel" being over a year old and all, I don't know who's still carrying, so you might want to get in contact with Nashazphone directly. Depending on your funds (hey, you might want to put some money towards the "Juggernaut" and "Piasa..." reissues) I'd highly recommend both missives...it's just a matter of obtaining em, is all.

Click here to listen to MP3 samples from the above album


Blogger narlus said...

excellent review. just wanted to pass that along; as a fellow writer i often feel the cold hand of indifference.

2/16/2008 10:52 PM  

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