December 9, 2009
ABSTRACT SKULLS, Spungiforms cd (originally released on cassette, ca. 1985; re-released 2009 by EEEE EEEE Records)
Band members: George Hinchliffe, Davy Walklett, Ian "Wig" Wood"; guests Sue Swift, Diz Willis
You know that, in your darkest heart of hearts, you have often wondered: 'What would the Residents sound like if you took away their keyboards and gave them only some uncertain brass instrument, the occasional bass and guitar, but mostly what sounds like pots, pans, plates and cymbals, as well as equally ambiguous stringed instruments, possibly including violin, ukulele and banjo?' Ok, so the percussion would give you 'Land of A Thousand Dances' from THIRD REICH AND ROLL, but the rest would not be as easily squeezed into the conceit.
You might get something like this 10-song cassette, 9 of whose selections are quite challenging. Even free jazz/improv might be misleading, because, well, much of Ornette Coleman's work has passages of beauty and melody. There's not a lot of either here.
"Skarp Hedin's Axe" has some vaguely jazzy chords and figures on guitar and bass, and bears a vague resemblance to "Peter Gunn" as played by The Shaggs, but the clanging percussion and the sheer repetitiveness of the selection might tax some people's endurance. "42 West German Splints" is a little like Ornette Coleman, but in his trumpet playing (I think it's a trumpet) rather than saxophone, and the plinky string accompaniment on what is either a banjo or a ukulele is not exactly there to provide harmony under the vague swipes at melody the horn attempts. "Danse De Maquette" has a certain technique, as what is either a ukulele or a banjo is treated to both pizzicato plucking and the piece ends with a brief snatch of what sounds like tape-molested voice. "ESP" sounds like a slightly tamer cousin of "42" above. "Cavillato" actually is a LITTLE catchy, as it has both sawed and pizzicato violin, but it meanders quite a bit. "Volgaboatpersons" is the most Residential here, as it takes the familiar tune (you would recognize it) and does unspeakable lurching things to it, and "Sprats" does much the same to a violin and thumping composition. "Dextra et Lamina" has squeaky noises that sound like doors or drawers, some more violin violence and another, longer, droning vocal tape insertion.
And then, suddenly...A TUNE!! "Hebden Bridge Suite" is recognizably these people, as the percussion is the same thump and splash, but the trumpet is playing a melody of sorts, the strumming ukulele or banjo is often providing a harmonic base and even the peculiar little guitar noises are not forbidding this time. It goes on for 17 minutes, though, which is where I suppose its "difficult listening" credentials are earned.
And back to the difficult listening. The similarly lengthy "Invisible Member (Ocean)" has more trumpet torture and a somewhat sophisticated but ear-testing base of unclear stringy noises.
An intriguing little collection. I do think you'd have to be in a very special mood to love it, but it is certainly a sign of creative minds, and you just know they're doing it on purpose, because there are signs of chops (much like a violin player on the streets of my town who has skills and fingering technique, but evidently either never learned to tune or is doing the Jandek thing of tuning to how he feels - in which case, get help... ;) ).