Monday, June 23, 2008

Sun City Girls-You're Never Alone with a Cigarette

With last year's passing of Charles Gocher, Sun City Girls will exist only in the realm of memory. Luckily for music consumers, they documented a lot of their work. Some of it is getting rather expensive to be had, but thankfully Abduction has reissued an affordable batch of great work from the band, most of it from 1988. You're Never Alone with a Cigarette is made up of nine killer examples of the band, in prime form, really playing their way to a sound that is theirs alone. Their music is an awe-inspiring mixture of influences and modes, launched from a Rock base, that goes just about anywhere they Will it to go. It's fucking courageous music. Here are a few attempts at describing the amazing sounds on this disc.
Let's start with Alan Bishop. His dense bass chords anchor the group's playing. One would be hard put to find as strong an electric bassist in any era. His playing has similar density to Jazz players such as Charnette Moffatt or William Parker, and the fact that he gets such a rich, complex, and organic sound out of an electric bass is amazing. It's some earthy, hardened, funky playing, and it keeps the improvisatory flights of the band physical. Alan's playing gives Sun City Girls a real heaviness. His Moroccan flute playing is pretty damn sweet, too.
Richard Bishop's guitar playing moves from speedy runs to sweet melodies to mind-melting slide effects. On the longer songs he takes all the liberty he needs, but never sounds bored or boring. His shorter compositions are just beautiful folk music. Like his brother, the closest comparisons to other players must come from Jazz (Sonny Sharrock, Blood Ulmer, Barney Kessell), but his mastery and freakiness place him atop his own guitar hero mountain.
Last but not least is the late Gocher. Here we find a drummer that combines basic elements with extreme subtlety. He often pulses the music with a simple quarter note bass drum thump, reminiscent at times of marching bands, at others of avant-garde music a la Moondog's or Albert Ayler's. Atop this bass drum pulse there is a weave of percussion on the tom toms and snare drum. His approach on these drums sounds a lot like the best tabla playing, in the way it comments upon and shades the melodies. There is nary a cymbal bash to be found. Gocher's cymbal playing often has the shimmering quality of the gongs used to such great effect in the Gamelan music Sun City Girls love(d) so much. His drumming serves as a model for any percussionists who would like to play "World Music". It draws upon elements from around the world, yet clearly is a World unto itself.
Now on to the tunes. There isn't a bad one in the bunch. Especially effective are the improvised trios, in which Sun City Girls interact as if of one mind. Their jams become incredible psychedelic cascades. These tunes are hypnotic and trippy, and the band flows with the telepathic communication that bands achieve from playing together a lot. This is not tightness in a traditional virtuoso based Jazz or improv-Rock sense. This is tightness on the order of the best improvised music. The instruments interact, respond, break off, re-join, and flow on, a collective entity. It's really wonderful to hear. Breaks in the action are provided by South Asian tinged acoustic chants and soundtrack-like bits, which are fun and entertaining. Of particular note is the tune about the doomed Mr. Wilkinson, Harmful Little Armful, lasting a mere forty-three seconds, but packing more punch than any other O.D. tune I've ever heard. The watery chords and brushed snare drum give this song a lonesome, isolated feel. This, combined with the short duration, make for a scary, sinking feeling. I've never O.D.'d on anything, but can imagine that this may be what it feels like to do so.
Cigarettes are bad. Sun City Girls are more than good. Spend some time alone with their music, and imagine Charles Gocher reaching out and giving you a nice, big Germs burn with his eternal cancer stick. Then close your eyes and watch your mind explode and collapse. His band can have that kind of effect on you.


Pig State Recon said...

Mr. Wilkinson = Will Shatter, right? Yes, I think I'll haveta search out this record - I am woefully undereducated when it comes to the SCG.

Mark Pino On Drums said...

Yes, Russell Wilkinson was Will Shatter. Meri St. Meri of SF once pointed at an apartment and said to me: "that's where Will died". Sad. Sun City Girls are another great headphone band. Saw 'em at the Chameleon on Valencia St. in 1991 or '92. Gocher at point started playing his kit with a feather duster! He was a strange cat! Great drummer, too. SCG to me are what groups like Sonic Youth and Butthole Surfers could have evolved into, had they been less careerist.Thanks for reading, M!
ps-can't wait for the BPeople reissue on Warning!