Wild Mercury Sound

Sunburned Hand Of The Man meet Four Tet, plus PJ Harvey, Robert Forster and "I Bloodbrother Be"

John Mulvey

As I've mentioned before here, the marketing department next door aren't too fond of the primordial swamp jams that come out of the New Weird America, and for the past couple of weeks they've been particularly aggravated by the new album by Sunburned Hand Of The Man.

To my ears, though, "Fire Escape" is by far the most accessible album I've come across by this productive and frequently unhinged collective from Massachusetts. Compared with the last Sunburned album which came my way, "Z" on Ecstatic Peace, this is a pop record.

I exaggerate, of course. But still, most of Sunburned's copious catalogue consists of sprawling freak-outs recorded in their attic and released by themselves on CDR. "Fire Escape", on the other hand, is a slick and formal product. It's coming out on Oslo's excellent Smalltown Supersound label, with a sleeve designed by EYE from the sainted Boredoms. Most importantly, it's been produced - in a proper studio, no less - by Kieran Hebden, the London producer and musician who's best known for his largely electronic work as Four Tet.

Hebden has great and eclectic taste, and he's set about recording and mixing Sunburned pretty fearlessly. For a start, he's hacked down a fair bit of the undergrowth that traditionally surrounds the band, without - amazingly - compromising their quicksilver free spirits. On "Fire Escape" you can hear every last rustle and clank, from the spirited percussive ambles through to a spray of trumpet supplied I think, by Vibracathedral Orchestra's Michael Flower, whose duets album with Chris Corsano (another sometime Sunburned member) I raved about here. The trumpet is pitched somewhere between "On The Corner"-era Miles and the voluntaries of a dying elephant. This, I suspect, is what marketing have most issues with. I think it's great, of course.

Most importantly, Hebden understands that Sunburned's secret weapon is bassist Rob Thomas, whose heavy, funky lines bring all the wayward jams into sharp focus. It's here that Sunburned's potency as a groove band becomes really apparent (as anyone who's seen them live will testify). Beyond the drum circles, improv psych and shamanic moaning, they're at their best when they recall Funkadelic or Can. Their best record, anyway, since "Jaybird", and maybe their best ever. Neophytes should definitely start here.

A few quick things. A serendipitous bit of iPod shuffling yesterday fetched up something from the new PJ Harvey album next to "Mrs Bartolozzi" by Kate Bush. I think I mentioned Bush in my original review of "White Chalk" here, but the correlation between some of these songs and the piano tracks on disc one of "Aerial" is quite striking, I think.

Secondly, here's a fascinating review I was sent of Robert Forster's long-awaited return. I'm sure all old Go-Betweens fans will be delighted by this news. And finally, kudos to Andrew Weatherall for his "Sci-Fi-Lo-Fi" mix CD which, amongst many tracks by sinister men with quiffs down the ages (oh, the new Gallon Drunk album is good, too), features "I Bloodbrother Be" by The Shockheaded Peters, sounding as lusty and fresh as it did on the Peel programme what, 25 years ago now?


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