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Sun City Girls - God Is My Solar System / Superpower

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Artist: Sun City Girls

Album: God Is My Solar System / Superpower

Label: Eclipse

Review date: Aug. 4, 2003

Scribbles From the Drawing Board

God Is My Solar System and Superpower, dating from 1982 and 1983 respectively, were the first two cassette recordings ever released by Arizona-based neo-dada costume-rockers the Sun City Girls. The Girls, who boast an incredibly lengthy “out-of-print or otherwise unavailable” column in their discography, are certainly ripe for a substantial reissue project that won’t break the bank. Locust’s admirable but fetishistic 3-LP, $35 reissues of 330,003 Crossdressers Beyond the Rig Veda and Dante’s Disneyland Inferno have thankfully (for the weak-willed among us) been halted at two – keeping labels like Sound@One in mind, it’s safe to say that hipster mysticism doesn’t uphold asceticism as one of its primary tenets. Thankfully, Eclipse Records has assumed responsibility for making much of the band’s hidden history audible again, and for a reasonable price to boot. The handsome God Is My Solar System / Superpower double-gatefold LP is the first of a series of ten proposed reissues of the band’s cassette catalog, and it’s a fine place to establish your SCG bearings before tracing their wildly variable tangents and tantrums across twenty years of subsequent recordings.

The Sun City Girls – at their core, brothers Alan and Sir Richard Bishop with Charles Gocher on drums – have always taken a postmodern approach to music and musical theatre. Their best records are schizophrenic pastiches of folk guitar plucking, ancient eastern ritual, cosmic jazz excursions, late-capitalist satire, kabuki theatre, and anything else worth cramming into what are often twenty- and thirty-odd numbered song cycles. At the point of their humblest origins (I should note that predating God Is My Solar System, different manifestations of SCG called, among other things, Fuck You, The Next, and Paris 1942 – featuring Moe Tucker on drums – were also kicking around Phoenix) the Sun City Girls made use of a terrific collision of two central forms – punk and free jazz. Even when the marriage was a bit too shaky to fly, it wobbled and lurched pretty seductively.

On God Is My Solar System, the title track sounds a bit like listening to the Minutemen with a trigger finger on the mute button. Gaping pauses separate staccato bass notes and guitar squawks before the song settles into a messy, improvisational groove. With less on their palette than later efforts, the band’s patent wackiness is nevertheless apparent, though they sound more like Trumans Water at this stage than future grandpappys to legions of psych fiends. Some of God’s material is slightly more meditative, like “Mosquito” with its buzzing, nominal drone underpinned by tabla-styled percussion, but at heart it’s all pretty art-damaged and coarsely messy. There’s a heap of novice spazz-rock (“Komodo”, “561B”) but much of the frenzy is bridged competently by sly change-ups. “Invocation,” the first track that includes what would later become a hallmark – a sing/speak narrative style – rages atypically before evolving into a skewed carnival barker growling over a dizzying merry-go-round melody. The chant morphs across many minutes, and its bloated irreverence marks the tentative, though not unsuccessful, beginnings of the SCG epic poem.

Superpower shows the Girls better getting the hang of never getting the hang of it. “Glass Globe” sounds like a ragged cover of an old ballad I should probably recognize, but the anarchic guitar and synthesizer embellishments transform it into the last dance song at a very trippy wedding. It’s the most structured track on the reissue, and some solid footing makes the playful improv all the more digestible. “Alien Free” Parts 1 and 2 are psychic jazz extemporizations featuring Alan Bishop and Jesse Srogoncik on dueling alto saxophones. Not complete without Eddie Detroit’s “goat calls,” it’s a very enjoyable and considerably more palatable mess than much of God’s murkiness. The latter half of the movement carries nicely into the incantation of “Demon on the Beach,” making the fourth side one of the reissue’s strongest.

Like much of the Sun City Girls’ output, God Is My Solar System / Superpower is rough and tumble stuff, recorded spontaneously during practice sessions and without bothering to round the edges. While it doesn’t stack up with the best of their early to mid-’90s stretch, I’d say it rivals the hot/cold Carnival Resurrection Series of the past few years. Kudos to Eclipse – with nine more reissues on the way, there’ll be lots of fun material to sift through.

By Nathan Hogan

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