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STEVEN STAPLETON has been a long-time fixture in the avant-music scene, alternately perplexing, revolting, captivating and confounding unwary listeners since the end of the ‘70s when NURSE WITH WOUND was born. He’s a shadowy figure, with a wide breadth of work who operates in a very unique arena, so that even similarly unconventional artists and contemporaries (and oftentimes collaborators) such as WHITEHOUSE, CURRENT 93, COIL, MIRROR, etc have a wider recognition, at least on a broad level. As a self-confessed non-musician, he’s nevertheless been able to amass quite a body of work, using his prodigious creativity, curiosity, and determination. The latest salvo foisted upon the world, this time a joint project with ANDREW LILES, has been tagged his ‘lounge record’ by various bits I’ve read, but to me there are no tiki torches blazing, no campy organ (discounting the short intro on “Ketamineaphonia” before it dissolves into tribal hand drumming) or instantly dated- ESQUIVEL or LES BAXTER quotes. I will say there are some danceable beats on display; “Groove Grease (Hot Catz)” suggests that Stapleton wasn’t unaware of the Mo’Wax label and the fruit it bore, and “The Funktion of the Hairy Egg” glides somewhat close to MASSIVE ATTACK or PORTISHEAD territory (primarily due to LYNN JACKSON’s relatively flat vocals) if the beats programming was done in an sensory deprivation chamber, before the tube breaks open and a menagerie of animals come shrieking, braying, squealing and mewling into the saline mess. More than a hint of Southern voodoo is tossed into “Black Teeth,” the blackened soul of SCREAMING JAY HAWKINS describing a split world of trains to hell, and lovemaking on either coast’s boardwalks (Coney Island, Santa Cruz).
The record’s languid pace is back on track when “Thrill of Romance…?” slowly slinks by, a queasy electronic rhythm providing some sublime texture for the guitar playing of MATT WALDRON (aka IRR.APP. (EXT) ), who pulls off a sound that might confuse an ‘invisible jukebox’ contestant into guessing it’s actually MARC RIBOT from one of the myriad Filmworks soundtracks JOHN ZORN is responsible for. The Zorn influence pops up a few cuts later (“Juice Head Crazy Lady”) and there’s more cut-up/pastiche going on; at last the concrète been poured for the foundation we are so familiar with. A cod-jazz walking bass line ushers in “Wash The Dust From My Heart,” and it’s a good time to get some crackers or something. Make sure you arrive back in time for the centerpiece, though – “Cruisin’ For A Bruisin’” contains no overt PINK FLOYD references musically and instead yields a dizzying car crash collage filled with dopplered car horns, and propelled by a farting tuba; you can practically taste the bitter diesel plumes and gradually your senses are dimmed by the petrol fumes as reality folds in on you. Bring your huffin’ rag behind the dumpster and breathe deeply. The album ends with a short, disembodied take on the chestnut “All of Me,” where Stapleton plies FREIDA ABTAN’s close-mic’d vocals against a rumbling, looming thunderstorm. Don’t fall for the hidden ball trick.
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