I got a great email the other week from Jon Dale, Uncut’s man in Australia and one of our most diligent hunters of the esoteric. Our subsequent correspondence turned into a bit of a squabble about cassette tapes, of all things: Jon is a fan, as you can see from his excellent blog; I think there’s something rather elitist about disseminating new music on a virtually obsolete format. But I have to let that one go.
What Jon was writing to me about was something he called the “new wave of American lo-fi”, which he suggested managed to incorporate DIY pop, Mary Chain-style noise, ‘60s psych, bits of improv and so on. He went on to list a bunch of bands that were part of this doubtless self-denying scene, most of whom I must admit I’d never heard of: Eat Skull, The Hospitals, Little Claw, Tyvek, TV Ghost, The Blank Dogs, Psychedelic Horseshit, Ex-Cocaine and more.
Jon made the whole thing sound tremendously exciting, a kind of frantically unevolved underground relative of the free folk scene. I guess the one band who have blazed a trail for this into the indie mainstream are Times New Viking, who prompted a few mag pieces as the pioneers of, um, “shitgaze” a few months ago. But the bunch who Jon was most excited about were Sic Alps and, now I’ve heard their forthcoming album, “US EZ”, I can see his point.
As far as I can work out, Sic Alps are a duo from San Francisco, and according to the press release from Siltbreeze, this fourth album is “the virtual brick of Berlin/Big Sur hash we’ve all been waiting for.
Well, yeah. More prosaically, “US EZ” sounds like a garage rock band who vacillate stylishly between not giving a damn about audio fidelity and aestheticising the fuzz, and one who are really attuned to an idea of psychedelia that can be at once vague and crunchy. Of the reference points that Jon gave me, the one that seems most salient to me is Guided By Voices; specifically, I reckon, that early ‘90s phase that produced “Propeller” and “Vampire On Titus”.
You can hear it most pronouncedly on the muffled beat-group clatter of “Mater”, which echoes Robert Pollard’s most primitive Who fantasies. “Massive Place” is a distorted second-cousin to the Black Lips’ brat garage, and once or twice, Sic Alps slope into a disintegrating noise jam.
Mostly, though, they’re surprisingly stealthy. Some of the stumbling beats, artfully dazed playing, and general self-aware dissolution might be a turn-off for a few of you. But the songs are great, and the treatments are genuinely bracing and charming. I’m reminded of Julian Cope in his bedroom freak/whimsy mode (“Skellington”, “Droolian” I suppose), and not just because the title of “Gelly Roll Gum Drop” calls to mind “Jellypop Perky Jean”.
I also, repeatedly, think of Skip Spence’s “Oar” when I play “US EZ”, especially on “CO/CA”, “Sing Song Waitress” and “Everywhere, There”. The fragmentary vibes might be self-conscious rather than psychologically inevitable, but there’s no need to suffer for your art when you can make a record as twisted, fun, as entertainingly wrecked as this one. Let’s hope Jon’s other tips are as good. . .
Oh yeah, it seems you can check out some Sic Alps stuff at their website. Let me know what you think.