Dunce Confederacy

There’s a point towards the end of the Lords of Zubos album “The trouble with Paté”, i.e. the release that precedes this one I am going to talk about here,  where John Rowley berates John Senior and his brother Mike plus Paul Hogg for spending two years messing around, getting stoned and creating a muddled mess. There’s some validity in that tongue in cheek badinage as,  whilst the Zubos album is a sometimes confused, sometimes suspect, melange  of Firesign Theatre like surreal theatrical snippets, its successor “Road Trip (Fall of the Rebel Angels)” takes the bones of that experimentation and transforms their work method into a collection that transcends comparison with any other contemporary releases in 2018, and stands as a unique piece of art and music regardless of the year. The Zubos album ought to be heard in advance of the Aliens album as it, despite its sometimes worryingly laddish humour, creates a framework with which to listen to the latest release.

Hull has a fine track record of producing good music. Last year I was taken on a between pub trip around the City Centre by some locals who introduced me to the rich history of the cities musical heritage which is not all about Mick Ronson despite rumours you may have heard to the contrary. Of late Warren Street Records, and Lou Duffy Howard and her various projects, and the annual Humber Street sessions have continued to cement the Hull reputation with a rich vein of material. Bands like Life, Loudhailer Electric Company, El Whaeko, La Bête Blooms, EMBRS, and  The Evil Litter are all fine examples of what Hull is delivering at the moment. Add to that list Ten Million Aliens.

Ten Million Aliens are the latest incarnation of the partnership of  John Senior with producer John Rowley, ex-guitarist from John Peel favourite’s Red Guitars (of which the aforementioned Lou was the bass player). The duo remains largely unknown outside of their local music scene and has worked together for years on some fascinating studio projects including the aforementioned Lords of Zubos and more recently a similarly fascinating and fantastic album “On The Beach” which features the late Eddie Smith. Senior has recently remixed one of the bands on the German Shepherd record label – The Mind Sweepers.

With the addition of Rich Banks on bass and guitar, they have taken matters to another level from Lords of Zubos with this new album.

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There must have been some degree of pre-cognition in play when the album was started two years ago as some of the subject matter covered eerily mirrors and reflects Trump’s current Republican base with chilling accuracy. It also echoes, to some degree, John Kennedy Toole’s picaresque novel “A Confederacy of Dunces”, in that it lays bare some of the more absurd and obsessive elements of American culture. I was pondering a while back as to why there was not a current protest movement in the music biz which reflected the state of things in both this country and the States. To some degree, this album covers that gap. It also strikes me that this album is a musical counterpart to the visual art of Garth Ennis’ Preacher series, an America which is both familiar and alien.

The opening “A Confederacy of Fools” mirrors the Toole novel in both title and content by exposing the partisan simplicity of the dialogue of the right, and indeed the far right. The music reflects the place and is wonderful, the words reflect some rather worrying thought processes that have been given a wider stage by the orange man-baby of late.  The puerile arguments against countries that play “soccer” instead of “proper” football (i.e. American) is both chilling and hilarious.

It’s not all about politics mind you, there is a heartfelt tribute to Jerry Lee Lewis via “The Killer” which collates some remarkable comments from the great man. Americas tortured history with regard to race discrimination is forensically examined with “Long Time Coming”  which is brutal but captured beautifully in a remarkable piece of music which is reminiscent of John Zorn’s cut-up technique used on “The Big GunDown.  The remarkable “Soul Food” is a hilarious take-down of American Food Culture which would turn any dedicated meat eater into a vegan overnight.

“Cuban Nights” cheekily borrows an Afro-Cuban jazz motif to contain the story of The Bay of Pigs crisis and the chilling time of the Cold War in the early 60s. “Rocket Clank Clank” starts off with Jeff Tracy and then embarks on a trip around 50s sci-fi movies with a Nuggets-style vibe. Any track which includes my favourite movie “Forbidden Planet” and Star Trek TOS is always going to get my vote, that they launch into a post-punk hook in parts of the song is both baffling and fascinating. “From A Buick 8” centres on both American car culture and the advertising industry of that country with a bluesy piano work-out. “Cops and Robbers” adopts a Bill Burroughs/Brion Gysin cut-up technique by marrying cop-show funk with a seemingly random series of excerpts from tv and film, Senior’s piano on this track is particularly fine. “Dust to Dust” provides a jazzy interlude with spacey guitar and reflects elements of American history. Like a lot of the music on the album seemingly incongruous found sounds float around to create a feel which reminds me of the work of Hal Willner (particularly his Charles Mingus hommage “Weird Nightmare”). The brilliant “Don’s Guns” takes a George Clinton/Bootsy Collins/James Brown riff and morphs into a guitar/organ Jimmy Smith style freakout while tuning into various sounds from Nixon, Reagan through to Quinn Martin via various other destinations before commenting on the current Second Amendment debate which bedevils the USA.  “Bound for Glory” reflects the Trump presidency before embarking on a fractured journey from Bill Black/Scotty Moore to Mary Halvorson via techno and hi-life. The musical hooks here are intelligently constructed. Obama’s hopeful message is left hanging as the train whistle blows. The plaintive closer “Mr Tangerine Man” which quotes John F’.. Kennedy, and 9/11 disaster, and other key moments,  before getting into the utterances of the latest incumbent of the Presidency is sanguine food for thought and the perfect closer to an album full to the brim with outstanding creativity.

I unreservedly recommend this album to you as one of the most outstanding pieces of work I have heard. The irony is, I guess, that it took a couple of guys from Hull to make one of the boldest statements about America in a long long time.

Parts of the Lords of Zubos album can be streamed here but I suggest you acquire the whole thing as there is a narrative which runs through the complete set.

More info and shop here – http://ten-million-aliens.co.uk/

Many thanks to John Rowley and John Senior for their generosity and special thanks to Brad Cain for bringing the album to my attention in the first place.

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