Saturday, July 12, 2008

Sex Clark Five Strum And Drum. Alabama. Hotbed of indiepop. This is a reissue, from Ohio, I believe, or was it Indiana. They did an Electric Blood reissue some time later yet it was not as successful as was this masterpiece even with the presence of Robert Scott and his Andrew. 34 songs. All classics. The Men Who Don't Know Ice, it's rollicking and spiky and tuneful. They hadn't yet gotten too meta with the inscrutable Celtic influences on this record. It was the Beatles and the Replacements. It was better than both of them. Furious strums, as per the title. Apparently the name is a pun on Sturm und Drang, Goethe would be proud, it was the sort of cleverness that distinguished them in the hyper-competitive Huntsville indiepop scene. Who else would write a lament from the point of view of the Wermacht on their travails in the Russian winter. But that is coming later. Detention Girls, more buzzy pop, what must have been the reaction of people in Huntsville to this? Lynching? I kid because you know, Huntsville has the highest percentage of PHD's to the general population of any city on earth. It's true. Possibly. My brother lived there for a couple of years. I never visited, I have no first hand knowledge about the general level of intellect on display. My brother has only an MBA, he brought down the curve. Who knows if they've even heard of evolution. Third song Valerie, the first power pop number, double tracked vocals from James Butler and Rick Storey. This song reappears later, slightly altered, slightly improved. This album rushes past, if only Boyracer had this level of quality control they might have more than one listenable album. But then that is all Sex Clark Five have, though granted Battle of Sex Clark Five is almost there. Fourth song over, fifth song now, the experimentalism comes out. They were remarkably prescient in the causes that would come into vogue past their musicality sell-by date, here is a song about the girls of Somalia, they only just repeat the title over and over above a random drone but Somalia would later figure heavily in two presidencies and is currently one of the world's failed states and likely spot of future US interventions. I wonder what their educational and vocational background is. The German references are also flavoured with other Eastern European allusions including tales of the muslim conquest of Sarajevo and of course the most ludicrous celebrity cause of all the Liberation of Tibet. It would have been marvelous for them to discuss the war at the top of the world and the sellout of the cause by the American Government turning on the resistance in exchange for better Sino-US relations but we can't have everything can we. Can't Shake Loose, the sort of song that populates all of the distant corners of this record, intensely colourful and bright and cheerful. Modern Fix, a delightful love song, later there will be remarkable stories of loves that could have been and those that shone but briefly. We have often discussed the Verlaines as prime exhibit of the crimes of the ignorance of the record buying public but this is truly a lost treasure of western culture. This is sing song, harmony drenched glorious pop. Now then to accordions, a faux dramatic rendering of a lover's intent of a slowly dying love that will persist but whose luminosity weakens by the minute. So short. Who was there when this was current? It was issued on Subway records. But gasp it was American and from Alabama, surely the prejudiced eyes of indie kids from the 80s fomented its neglect. Apparently John Peel loved it. When they did their last record it basically showed up on John Peel's show and nowhere else, I ordered a copy from the band. It's pretty alright; it is better than Antedium at a minimum. While I'm Here another perfectly contained pop universe, barely over a minute in duration. References to Vladimir (Lenin?) and the Channel? Love worn sentiments and all that noise. If You See Her With Me Let Me Know, an odd title, I am unable to ascertain its meeting from the lyrics. Is it that he's smitten with someone who is all wrong for him and he's asking his friends to watch out for him in case he relapses falling helplessly into her clutches? Hard to guess. It's probably something more clever, perpetually will they be granted the benefit of the doubt. It is more caustic strums in the decoration of a wonderful pop song. I don't think that any of the songs stretch past 3 minutes and one half. In and out, more is said in that brief moment than in the entireties of some pop records which may make more legitimate claims of ponderousness. Now Alai, a rhythmic chant and drone, a Kyrgyzstan reference? It is possible. I wonder what their world travels consisted of. Maybe they were voracious consumers of National Geographics. When I was a child there was a large stack of National Geographic magazines in our basement, in the main, of course it was anthropological pornography for a young boy but you also learned about the Alai Mountains, well, presumably, you could. Next up is 51-L, a mention of the Pantheon in guise of a love song, I was in front of the Pantheon almost 10 years ago to this day. At the time I was unaware of the jumbled history of the place as secular vs. religious iconography. I knew Voltaire was buried there, I wanted to bask in his essence but I went to the Baskin Robbins just down the street instead and allowed a young french ice cream specialist to test his English out on me. Faith, surely as cosmopolitan as Sex Clark Five are they are atheists, but then they grew up among the Bible Belt prominences and this seems to be a matter of a secular distinction of faith, his faith is in her "green eyes" the memory of which he will carry with him always for fortification. Another of the power pop masterpieces. Perhaps one day the clowns at All Tomorrow's Parties will have Sex Clark Five reunite for a one night only performance of this album. In Kyrgyzstan! I would travel to the ends of the Earth for such an event, even though they are certainly old, probably fat and reassuringly cynical. A short keyboard, motorik instrumental now, Kid Raja, always with the orientalism fascination. I am reading The Muslim Discovery fo Europe at the moment and it is fascinating to come to grips with how little interaction to two great foes of the age; Islam and Christendom had with each other. It was a case of suspicion, slightly, but each seemed to regard the other as essentially subhuman and on an express train to hell. It is a strangely written book. Next is Streamers, another love song, even in Huntsville the girls one loves are always either prepossessed or rather unpossessable, it's the universal state of nature. Very short. Almost halfway through the 34 songs. Here is the song concerning Sarajevo's history, is it concerning the Turks or Tvrtko or the Hapsburg conquest, actually it's about about the assassination of Franz Ferdinand and all of the above. There is a museum dedicated to Gavrilo Princip in Sarajevo. I worked with a Bosnian who was very proud of Gavrilo. He didn't seem to know anything about the role of the order of the black hand and the Serbian conspiracy in the assassination, just the yoke of nationalist passions against the Hapsburgs that still seem to animate so many in the region. Whatever. He no longer works for us and I am not sure he was ever relieved of his European bred prejudice against me the unknowing American disguised as a covert Canadian. Window to the Works, one that sounds like it was recorded in the basement, as it was, most of the rest of it has remarkable fidelity considering the realities on the ground. Shot stabs on the guitar, trebly vocals, marvelous. Its difficult to keep up with all of the goodness on display. She Collides With Me introduces itself with an echoing, ringing, opening then segues into more of the buzz-saw pop we are already bowled over with. Carl Newman is an alleged fan. If only Carl would reform Zumpano. I had an email argument with someone over the New Pornographers once, it was ridiculous, it seems that it is a crime in some countries to not be a fan. This song just rings and rings and all the while speeds frantically along like a runaway carriage, you are left searching for Jon Voight and Rebecca Demornay though a glass of milk in a snowstorm. It's vague and warm, everything is desperately endearing there is nothing unlikeable at all in any of these grooves. Now to the reprise of Valerie with a bit of the Celtic foreshadowing introduction, folky strums, stiffly tamped drums, then the abrupt shift into a perfect power pop song. No concerns of "death by moped". That was rude, apologies. Over. Get Back Yoko another of the experimental moments, predates the Dead C actually, and actually this would be the Dead C in tuneful mode, very much DR 503 material this, primeval and fractured and indelicate. I suppose this is what Yoko Ono sounds like when she is making toast, but I am not hip enough to be aware of that. Wolf Eyes fans would love this. They would never admit to as much. Neita Grew Up Last Night, chugging strummy folky pop, is it about Neita losing her virginity, there was talk of flowers earlier and now she's had a transformation and a change in the balance of power towards her pole has been detected. Our hero was not the thief of her heart, unfortunately, and now he has lost his interest, pity. Red Shift their focus then changes to science, Edwin Hubble as beneficent interloper in youthful romance, taking precise measurements and keeping charts of her affections, it's icy and romantic and delicate and brilliant. I don't know if anyone else would find that. Play this song for me and forever would my heart belong to you. it could be the first dance at a hipster wedding of Huntsville Phd's. I Want You Mine, this is very Beatles-esque, or Peter and Gordon, double tracked vocals, a basic backbeat and a casual strum, a respite from the storm and stress of the earlier songs. There is a real progression on this album as the later numbers are absolutely mesmerisingwith their deceptive simplicity and aching real world drama. There is yearning in these vocals, in the pages of a abused yearbook there are tear stained creases of loneliness. Bloody brilliant. I keep wanting to insert references to certain event this week into this entry as points of comparison but I will maintain my resistance. A T-Rex cover, pretty straight forward. Were T-Rex legal in Alabama in the 80s? Effeminate rockers with questionable wardrobe decisions could cause a ruckus. We must care for the moral rectitude of the flock after all. This fits in perfectly with everything else and tellingly it's far from the best song on the record which means that Sex Clark Five, in addition to being greater than the Beatles and the Replacements are also greater than T-Rex. Splendid. Here is the Wermacht's Lament, first relaying the tale of fighting in Siberia while being dressed for the beach, then it breaks into some weird tribal chant with German accents and mocking allusions to Mein Kampf and Weimar Classicism. It's high comedy and it's insanely brilliant. Next comes Hot Heart with as perfect a set of wearied, lovelorn lyrics as will ever be discovered by anyone- 'your lightning's warm in my thunder' etc-it is as casual a trill through the depths of the raw ideals of a heart's demise as you will ever hear, it lingers beyond the final note into the next song even; a mad gallop through something slightly less substantial. Now on to another perfect love song, always to they receive credit for their historical references and, absurdly, they then had it used against them later, but they were master class navigators of the emotions of human interaction. Is this the bassist singing? I can't tell. I've never actually noticed that this might be a female singing before. I am remarkably observant, it would appear. But, I've relayed the fraught state of my ears before. I love music and yet I am tone deaf and musically illiterate which makes for an interesting combination and contributes greatly to my rambling incoherence, the glorious inequities of naivety. Fool I Was might require its own wing in the pop pantheon, surely when James Butler is interred at some distant point along the continuum Madame President of the Ninth Republic Vanessa Paradis will step forward and offer a spot among the giants of Gallic sophistication. Now to the greatest song in the history of the world ever! Really. When Words Become a Kiss, perfect lyrics, again, let us try to transcribe in real time-"You came to me. I took your hand we were in love. I understand, but in this world we couldn't last too many strains were holding us too hard and I knew from the start the more I saw you the sooner we would part. There's landmarks in the town where we would meet to hide what we found. We came so close to finding our way. A secret's making the sky an empty cathedral. I wanted so for you to be mine and yet I could never have you at all. In the place of chance we held our own and found a way to make the world in our image if only for a little while. We struggled on to let our love die when our words were torn from the sky but for a while I lived in your heart and we know that what we had was true love and I know what I miss, the tragic moments when words become a kiss. It was meant to be but it will never be at all'. Isn't that amazing? It's a John Hughes movie condensed into a perfect 3 minute pop song with fanfare and romance and melancholy. Gosh, it's so wonderful, and sure John hughes is hardly the standard bearer of beauty but it seemed a handy comparison at the time. Love, a jaunty little exercise, soulful and reminiscent of 50s rock'n'roll, a bit Big Bopper meets George Harrison's early turns when the Beatles covered R'n'B hits in the early days. James Butler turns faux-soulful crooner on top of a perky beat, fantastic fantastic, why isn't this the most sought after record ever made? I am 30 songs in and I honestly wish that there were 30 more to follow. Which other records do you own that are like that? Maybe Fonda 500's last album. I have the new one, by the way, its judgement will come soon. I am hoping the disappointment of the week does not contaminate my thoughts on it. I haven't even listened to the entire thing yet. You Left the Lights On In Your Eyes, a precursor to a Bob Wratten stalker pop genre, she's dumpd him but he can still see the attachment to him in her eyes. It's an anatomical metaphor rather than a Letter Never Sent. Of course, that one's a magnificent song as well and it got me through this lonely Christmas where I emailed my encounters of the locals to someone marvelous. Now a Byrds cover, now this might be the second best song on here, but it is alright because its an obscure Byrds song isn't it. I was completely unaware that it was a cover for at least a year after owning it. Best thing about it is that there is not any David Crosby on it. I watched the Seven Ages of Rock today and thankfully he did not make an appearance. Is there a more minor figure in the history of anything who receives more acclaim and attention than this stooge? Unlikely. It would be like interviewing James Marshall about the Manhattan project. 33rd song now, Accelerator an appropriate title, a rush of a pop song, high pitched squealie vocals, frantic beat, ramjet rockets and flames and buzzing guitars and cacophony and dreaminess. Last one is a bit of experimental noise, but it is the last song, we don't really have to listen now do we. It does almost play like a historical epic, a bit of Gogol mixed with Ross King perhaps.


Unknown said...

I've seen Crimson Panzer (SC5's "latest" (2002, I think) (which you did not name by name) referred to as the greatest LP ever, and I think that's the case, except maybe Strum and Drum!
This is the deepest analysis of that LP I've ever seen, and well worth it too!
And there's more, much more!
BTW, Mr. RP, you might want to give Crimson Panzer another listen. I think you will find that it is up there with S&D!
Did you catch the mini-opera about Atilla and the Roman Princess?!! Ha!
And Mere Clay! Romance as apocalypse anyone??!
Thankers again for giving SC5 their due.
A new CD from them soon I hope!!
Tim G

coldwarrior said...

Sex Clark Five, They could’ve been the biggest band in the world if they weren’t from Alabama. In Huntsville they jam packed the ill fated local cbgbs and caused near riots. They’d play franticly for seemingly a few minutes and that was it. They also set up on the courthouse square and held impromptu shows for the skateboarders. I heard guys from Zumpano and other future far away greats came to Huntsville to meet them and see the land of the rockets and strum and drum. I’ve liked the other sc5 records but Strum and Drum is what everyone remembers. It was a forshadowing of the indie scene to come.

phil said...

This is the finest scholarly analysis of the enigmatic Sex Clark Five that I've found in Cyberspace. Thanks for the excellent blog.

Skyface said...

BBC Radio 6 featured the only strum and drum band that matters in session tonight and validates why sc5 are peerless. They have a fantastic new album called Rembrandt X. 30 songs - striking and brilliant as ever.

Heather said...

I enjoy your blog and wanted to write. The world hasn't caught up to the strum and drum fab four which makes me more determined to wave the sc5 flag. I wondered what you thought of RembrandtX from last year. They've got a brand new radio session album that I just got and recommend highly.

Chad said...

I stumbled upon a terrific article about the cryptic sc5 on (see below). According to that there's another new album in the works. The recent WFMU session cd has a Jack Davis cover. Sc5 is not only prolific and prodigious in the modern age but cool as well.