Smegma - Mirage
Important Records CD/LP
1973’s I.D. Art #2 comp contains a track called Potatoe War - a sub sixty second Smegma outing that features jaws harp pluck and a dumb hick vocal that wails ‘Ahh got mojo potatoes in mah pockets’ - and then somewhere along the line, a line that stretches almost forty years now they morphed into one of the most influential bands in D.I.Y, experimental improv, noise, call it what you want land. From songs about potatoes, banana breakfasts and blow job machines to London love-ins during the soon to be here Lowest Forms of Music fest. Almost forty years on the go, making some of the most incredible music on the planet and a week on Friday I shall see them tread the boards once again. A moment to be treasured.
Smegma’s appeal is that they manage to combine disparate musical sounds into something that is so uniquely their own. And the best bit is they’re probably all your favourite sounds too; 50’s guitar twang, noise dabbling, toy abuse, jazz improv, oscillations of otherworldliness and turntable manipulation - sometimes all within the space of one track. Smegma like hitting things, twanging things, twisting things, breaking things, spinning things, parping horns and bugles, theremins, tapes, bass guitars, drums, walls, floors, light fittings, pipes, musical boxes and cat litter [probably], and by experimenting and improvising with all of the above [and probably a lot more besides] they make music that puts the listener in a room where Mingus, Kagel and Link Wray are in a constant three way scuffle over a box of Porter Wagoner records. Or something like that. Smegma records are pretty hard to define anyway. It's like they defy you to categorise them. So if you put almost forty years of music-making in a jar, with forty years of shifting and evolving band membership, you get a kind of music that is truly inspirational but so far off the genre scale as to be uncategorizable. You could chuck them in with the noise makers and the experimenters and the improvisers, you could tar Smegma with any of those brushes, but the music they make is truly their own.
Mirage sees the return of several key members; Dennis Duck, Donkey Flybye, Ace Farren Ford, Rogue Liniki, Tom Recchion, Jozef Van Wissem, and Cody Brant, who along with main-man Ju Suk Reete Meate and Oblivia makes for one of the largest Smegma lineups for some time, and with several tracks being recorded in party mode at Smegma HQ you get that definite feel of a good time being had by all.
Of the six tracks available to me for review I got that same goose bump vibe as I get from any Smegma record. The title track is Richard Bishop meets Derek Bailey, coupled with some of what must be Tom Recchion’s ‘mystery sounds’, Oblivia’s scratchy records mutate into whistling and an eerie empty ballroom feel which eventually erupts into a chattering of zombie noise. When the discordant guitar returns you almost feel as if it's been scored. And then, like an exploding theatrical maroon, comes ‘F-85 Turbo Rocket’, two and a half minutes of doofus 50’s rockabilly twang with howling vocals, harmonica and Forbidden Planet effects. ‘Oh Yeh’ is a room full of people trying out all the toys in the toy shop: prodded piano keys, bells, swannee whistle [or the electronic variant thereof], a stiff door being forced open, deep bass notes, swirling, coins dropped into a dustbin lid, chatter, Wurlitzer organ, an out of tune harp, something that makes a whizzing sound and Cheerful Charlie Chester having his knackers twisted. All life is here. All in one track. The 50’s twang always gets me though. Those tracks lie in wait like highway robbers out to get your purse. The rest doesn’t disappoint either with the opening track, ‘World Of My Own’, kicking off with Oblivia spinning what sounds like a Doris Day 78 which gets tipped into a whorl of cacophony, which if it had mutated into Donna Summer's ‘I Feel Love’ wouldn’t have surprised me one bit, but it didn’t, instead it picks up steam and a steady drum beat. It then chugs off into the sunset with Dick Dale twanging away stood erect and grinning on the back seat of an open-topped Cadillac.
What proves to be the most intriguing track of all is the live take from 1974 which LP buyers won't get: ‘Quiet On The Set Rioux!’ is eight minutes of harmonium wheeze, horn parp, reed blast and piano bashing which given its year shows that Smegma were already drifting away from Potatoe Wars and into a world of pure experimentation and improvisation.
Just one final word: the CD carries two tracks that are not on the LP [‘Quiet On The Set Rioux!’ and ‘Oh Yeh’] and one track on the LP that's not on the CD [‘Very Good Advice’ - a spontaneous jam which sadly wasn’t available for review].
See you in London.