For nearly three decades, the psychedelic pranksters, hardcore backpackers and playful bullshit artists of Arizona’s Sun City Girls delighted and confounded a tiny but loyal audience. Enviably prolific and wildly unpredictable, the Girls issued blistering guitar rock, gentle folk outlines, irreverent polyglot pastiche, unlistenable skronk, and surrealistic standup comedy. When percussionist Charles Gocher died in ‘07, Bishops Alan and Richard immediately terminated the project. While they continue to perform together and separately, Funeral Mariachi will be their last release under the SCG flag.
It sounds as though they knew what was coming. Funeral Mariachi doesn’t noodle and it doesn’t push buttons. The album continues some of SCG’s unique hallmark tropes, including a proud debt to Morricone, dented Arabic, Mexican and East Asian influences, and Alan Bishop’s invented languages. The opening “Ben’s Radio” evokes the omnivorous dial-scan compilations on the Bishops’ Sublime Frequencies label, madly shifting genres while maintaining a semblance of a central theme. But the balance is uniformly somber, mournful and reflective, a dignified, painfully haunting outro for one of the weirdest bands ever to walk (much of) the earth.
AB delivers two songs in conventional English. “Holy Ground” mimics the particularly serious, sideways-sinister work of Barrett-era Pink Floyd. “This Is My Name” (“When I was dead I looked exactly like you / Now I’m alive where nothing is true”) is a warm, slow-burning drone poem carried along by a wavering organ and understated bongos.
Several of the straightest, saddest tracks, (“Vine Street Piano (Orchestral),” “Mineral Wells”) congeal around an ever-so-slightly-out-of-tune piano. Much like the band’s work on the Mr. Lonely soundtrack, Funeral Mariachi could not be less goofball, but it retains SCG’s internal logic. It’s a death album as only the Girls could do one.
Like much of the group’s output, the Funeral Mariachi LP will be released in small number, then rampantly pirated and fetch outrageous figures on eBay. A shame, as it’s powerful, it’s supremely accessible, and, in a kinder, more playful world, it could be NPR button music — or at least a life-changing stocking-stuffer for scores of Panda Bear fans.