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Alvarius B. - Blood Operatives of the Barium Sunset

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Artist: Alvarius B.

Album: Blood Operatives of the Barium Sunset

Label: Abduction

Review date: Dec. 7, 2005

It’s hard to even know where to begin with this piece, be it words on Alvarius B. (a.k.a. Alan Bishop) or the work he’s better known for as a member of the Sun City Girls. Both as an individual and in the group setting, these entities have been responsible for almost 25 years worth of mind-riot inciting material, taking a world most of us have only read about in books and exploding our view of it to the sensual, epic dreamscapes of Darger-esque proportions that exist within and around them. There are more sharp edges, more obscured and otherwise shape-shifting elements of music from the darkest and haziest parts of Earth than in any other group’s oeuvre, possibly throughout the history of popular music. And while debts to the world music community, to innovator/discoverers such as John Fahey or Harry Smith, Alan Lomax or Don Van Vliet must be paid in critical scenarios such as this, they are quickly forgotten when in the presence of the Girls’ combined output.

The sounds on Blood Operatives of the Barium Sunset (Bishop’s second album under this moniker, and the first one he’s released in seven years) will be familiar to those who enjoy the outsider music of today, but it’s unlike any other record this year and most others. It’s not the only album to evoke isolation, deep emotion, unlit corners and general unease. But it is the only one that tamps down certain elements of the Girls’ music – in particular the histrionic screed-yelling hobo stonk conspiracy-theorist glare that surfaced on their Kaliflower and Jacks Creek albums, then never really went away – into a more listenable, thematic whole, while losing none of what made that music jarring and venomous in the first place. The methods of abusing traditional arrangements are there (such as the stray, yowling chorus in opening cut “Evil Next to Blue,” or the Italian cartoonery of Ennio Morricone’s “Dirty Angels,” a propos as Bishop recently compiled a double-CD Morricone collection for Ipecac), as are the impenetrably lurid lyrics, violently and irrevocably spat out onto tape. Come to think of it, it may not even be fair to compare this album to anything the Girls have done, though it’s difficult to come to one without the other. Point being, an understanding of the Sun City Girls isn’t essential to the enjoyment of this album. And that’s one of the ways that it wins, big.

On his own, Bishop can expound all he wants on the horrors in the world today, both seen and unseen, in a slightly more traditional pop/rock framework that he sees fit to kick wide open at times, cradle like a sick child in others. The fading light of day escapes out of these 11 songs as the night curls around them. Eyes glowing red-orange with determination and madness, Bishop channels vocal styles of the yellowed paperback science fictional (think Buck Dharma and Blue Oyster Cult) and the up-all-night, living in movies insomniac genius (none other than the Flesh Eaters’ Chris D.) to wildly successful effect in the acoustic staggers of “The Demon 360” and “Ballad of Colonel Fawcett” – fireside folk tales of menace and loss where supernatural forces rob you of all you have. Following that theme is the unreal “Dracula Frizzi,” arranged by Bishop from a theme originally written for the film Andy Warhol’s Dracula by Italian film composer Fabio Frizzi. Skillfully and quietly, Bishop chills the proceedings with an atmosphere of romantic horror and dread, done to a level that’s the most serious and deadly show tune you’ve ever heard: “From the blood I take from you / I take your life, I take your dream, I take you too,” he speaks, enunciating every syllable before a storm cloud of electric guitar fills the air with anthemic unease, and at the same time redefining an existing musical moment into his own. The same tragic sensibilities work themselves out in “Missy Undertaker,” another ballad, this time with the narrator crying out for a rotting, lascivious Angel of Death to pull him six feet under after he’s done her bloody bidding. The album’s closer, a version of the folk song “Shenendoah,” is the last gasp for divine release, this time taking the metaphor for moving far away – away from the world of chemical weapons and assassins, of demonic possession, of ceaseless gore. Bishop’s deftly maudlin acoustic selections are ably accompanied by a cast including his brother Richard, violinist Eyvind Kang, and electric guitarist Tim Young, whose contributions to this record undercut tender moments with ever-so-appropriate noise and blister.

Seven years was too long for this half-hour’s worth of music to just float by, but that’s sort of the point. Alan Bishop has crafted the finest musical moment of 2005; not a note is wasted in bringing you face-to-face with his state of mind, and nothing will be able to stop you from flipping this record over again and again, playing it from one side to the other. Only a thousand copies have been pressed up on vinyl; no CD issue currently exists, and none is currently planned. Only a thousand of you can hold this album in your arms, manipulated by a master songwriter and performer with his marionette strings of allegory, fantasy and wrath.

By Doug Mosurock

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