Total Pageviews

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

Review: Tuxedomoon - Suite En Sous-Sol (Released 1982 on Italian Records)

First put online on the Head Heritage website in 2004

Tuxedomoon were formed in San Francisco in 1977 by Blaine L. Reininger (violin, bass guitar, keyboards, vocals) and Steven Brown (saxophones, keyboards, vocals), who had emerged out of the electronic music lab of the City College. They would also be joined, after various occasional musicians made appearances, by the enigmatic, ex-performance artist- Winston Tong- providing them with his distinct vocals.
Enter Peter "Principle" Dachert (guitar, bass guitar, electric/acoustic percussion, tapes & treatments), to create the line-up of Tuxedomoon.

Their combinations of influences and playing/recording ability would attract audiences of all types. Combining 'straight ahead' songs together with rich instrumentals, rangeing from quiet, moody ambient pieces to odd sound collage, classical elements, acoustic and electric arrangements and all points inbetween (humour too!), they always seem to carry it off without any pomposity or over-egged pseudo-art-twaddle!
After venturing out to play various events, they were soon caught up into the late 70s/early 80s San Francisco scene.
Not a group to waste time, they released a batch of singles (7" and 12") on Time Release Records in 1978/9 and were lauded by music journalist Glen O'Brien who wrote for Warhol's Interview magazine.
Things were looking more than good.

They were then contacted by SF's Bay Area underground entities The Residents, who then signed them up to Ralph Records.
After an initial 7" single release- "What Use?/Crash", they released their excellent debut LP "Half Mute" in 1980 (Tong had left for a short while but later returned).
The "Desire" album followed in 1981 (featuring the memorable title track with it's insistent drum machine and simple but very infectious vocals / lyrics).

After a european tour, they were gobsmacked at the positive audience response and the support from the music underground. So much so, they decided to move operations, first to Rotterdam and then to Brussels.
To say they were prolific in the 1980s is an understatment, they would record an impressive amount of material and tour extensively, using the talents of Bruce Gedulig (whom Tong had brought along on his return) to provide films and visual backdrops.

'Suite En Sous-Sol' was released as a double 12" in a gatefold sleeve which featured mysterious photographic images from a film by Gedulig.
It's often referred to as their 'strange baroque album', it's certainly
strange, but in a thoroughly pleasing way.

"Prelude"- is a short track just over a minute long, featuring a lazy but haunting saxophone and bass guitar which runs into -"Allemande Bleue".
A very slow moving but captivating track, starting with creepy percussive patters and atmospheric spots of sound which bring in soaring violin, while a sax starts stirring in the backround to the measured bass guitar notes.
These folks know the true meaning of mood music.
You are walking down a littered alleyway in the dead of night....
...then Reininger let's loose a shit-scared vocal howl, bellowing sentences through a megaphone and then becoming reverbed, sounding like an ancient bluesman from hell, while strangely, a character by the name of Slugfinger Lipton adds 'fake dobro' acoustic guitar, sliding and scraping the tortured strings, just within earshot. It sounds like two crossed radio stations, but somehow works very well.

"Courante Marocaine"- This features guest players Miri Mohammad on Derbooka (a type of arabic drum) and Khessassi Mohammed on Oud (an arabic stringed thang). This sounds like some sort of middle-eastern film sountrack but with a four-to-the-floor kick-drum off-set by clavinet and saxes beefing up the sound, which swell to great effect.
Yes, there is the token muezzin sounding vocals wailing in the midst, but it doesn't sound corny at all as Reininger's multi-tracked violins add to the authentic sound of the guest players, their crisp handywork rears up, then holds to the very end of the track.

"Sarabande En Bas De L'Escalier"
Meanwhile, back in spooksville, the tolling of a processed bell greets us with Tong's eerie half-whispered vocals and garlands of even more eerie fx-generated voices, while a shimmering hammond organ, the odd descending keyboard run and Principle's treated guitar sounds, make you pinch yourself to see that you are not caught up in some sort of dream-trapped scenario.

"Polonaise Mechanique"- begins with blocks of machine hiss and organ stabs while a manic voice gibbers franticly amongst the cacophony, like some lost species of primate trapped in the gasworks until the cries give it to the machines. This short track then changes to a cluster of keyboard phrases and slightly hammered piano strings. Marvellous.
They always seem to have something else going on in their tracks, like tape/device manipulated sounds.

Flanked again by their arabic guests. This time it's a kind of Kurt Weill type ballad (via Mr.Camus) with Winstong Tong providing some great vocals.
It's a great song and although the music and voice sound slightly sad, it's given a blast of humour via the lyrics, which tell the story of a kid that's really had a shit deal in life!

"First day of school, I lost my front teeth
Boys beat me up 'cause I wasn't one of them
I fought till I bled....and everyone was scared....
....It isn't my fault....THAT I'M STRANGE!..."

"I wasn't good at kickball
I wasn't good at girls
I used to have a habit of peeing in my pants
'Cause I was scared .....and I couldn't dance..."

Tong then sings a verse in french. Could Tuxedomoon have been taken in by the dark humourous views of their belgian hosts and proceeded to have a crack at their neighbouring countrymen?

In 1983, Reinenger had left to pursue a solo career and was replaced by Frankie Lievaart and trumpeter Luc Van Lieshout.
"Holy Wars"- an album released in 1985, would see them gain some commercial success across Europe and various other parts of the world.
By 1989, all the members of Tuxedomoon had each gone on to do a variety of solo albums, recording music for films and contributing to other musical activities, but always keeping themselves busy.

By 1997, Reinenger, Brown and Principle would meet up again while working on a series of compositions/sound intallations known as
"Hypothetical Elevator Music" which were performed in Israel, Italy and Greece.
Just like their first trip to Europe at the beginning of the eighties, they were once more suprised at the warming response from audiences and decided to reform, going on to record more material with contributions and help from the likes of John McEntire (Tortoise) and DJ Hell.

Most of the Tuxedomoon recordings are now available on CD (via Crammed Discs/CramBoy).
For a short example, their debut album "Half Mute" comes together with the "Scream With A View" 12".
"Desire", their second LP comes repackaged with 5 extra tracks which made up the 1978 EP "No Tears".
'Suit En Sous-Sol' comes packaged together with the "Time To Lose" and "Short Stories" twelve-inchers, also from 1982.

They have always provided a refreshing change and the variety of their material is massive. On first listen, some of their music may not hit the spot, but stick with them and you will be suprised at how it seeps deep into your soul.

Written by Tim Jones in october 2004

No comments: