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Sun City Girls - You're Never Alone With a Cigarette

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Artist: Sun City Girls

Album: You're Never Alone With a Cigarette

Label: Abduction

Review date: Jul. 30, 2008

For all the talk of Sun City Girls' genre-hopping, they never seemed to undergo any wholesale revision or escape their singular aesthetic, which is mostly to their credit. It'd be foolish to argue that they trapped themselves or failed to bridge disparate strains of psychedelia, punk, exotica and cartoon-splatter. The music is problematic, but that's not due to a lack of subjective generosity or curiosity on the group's behalf.

One issue, if you want to call it one, is that this stuff came almost too easily to the trio. There's a wealth of excellent SCG on the market, and as the "Volume One" on the spine of "You're Never Alone with a Cigarette" indicates, there's a whole lot more that vanished or remains unreleased. The Girls weren't infallible, but any group that could crank out this much quality material is either supernatural or suspect.

Were SCG simply privileged pillagers of shared and unshared cultural pasts? Maybe. Juxtaposing Eastern mysticism with a free-wheeling prankster attitude may sound revelatory, but it drains the spiritual vitality from the former and denies the latter a clear and meaningful target. The lack of thorough musicology and proper accreditation on many of Alan Bishop's Sublime Frequencies releases underscores this point. The Bishops and Gocher could often be too knowing for their own good; this was, above all, music by intellectuals who made history their sandbox while simultaneously rejecting its forward thrust. They kept the fun to themselves.

The Girls' cynical definition of post-modernism ultimately does them in, which is a problem that both Alan and Sir Richard Bishop's solo efforts avoid. What remains there is simple dedication to and individual wonder at their own musical prowess and fascinations. In comparison, SCG seems like a jovial boy's club that can't stop laughing, even at the serious parts.

About the music itself, every track on You're Never Alone is, well, astounding. These were folks supremely attuned to each other's varied interests and leanings that could blow most any modern-day noise-folk group out of the water. All of these songs were recorded during the Torch of the Mystics sessions 20 years ago and are either culled from long out-of-print 7"s or are previously unreleased, with the aforementioned genre-bridging and playfulness present in spades.

If there's one track on here that's eye-opening, it's a previously unreleased extended version of "The Fine-Tuned Machines of Lemuria." For 12 minutes, the group winds through improv-skronk and Moroccan haze, letting down their guard and allowing the musicianship and trance to take over. Though the bulk of their output is a conversation that you weren't having, they did, possibly despite themselves, let people in from time to time.

By Brad LaBonte

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