Village Voice - 10 July 2001 Vol. XLVI No. 27
Guerrilla Pop Struggle Is the New 'Entertainment!'
It's Their Factory
By Howard Hampton
"Follow us, comrade aviators," the rhythm-and-punk Gang of Four called out to fellow travelers everywhere on 1980's Entertainment!: "Swim into the abyss." Well, OK, not exactly-that wasn't Go4 speaking; it was the painter-theorist Kasimir Malevich in the barely post-revolution, still civil-war-torn Soviet dis-Union of 1920. But that was that spirit the band's intoxicatingly serious daredevil music channeled. A nonstop sonic montage juxtaposing dialectical agitprop ("Ideal love is a new purchase, a market for the senses") with jump-cutting, jigsaw abstraction, it merely promised that the world as we knew and (presumably) hated it could, lie by spectacular lie, be dismantled, put to shame, then remade from the ground-zero up. The idea was to overthrow the social system by means of an intractable, seductive sound only a relative handful of people even knew or cared about: 20-odd years later, the hardest thing to explain is how coherent and undeniably self-evident that rigorously organized noise seems.
It's that sound, that promise which the American band Suran Song in Stag reincarnate. Their valiant, funny, and curiously poignant CD, Cowboys and Indians is a two-disc, 18-tune, 65-minute album that not only includes taut, faithful remakes Entertainment!'s "I Found That Essence Rare" and "Natural's Not in It," but offers a virtual cover version of that album's Situationist-inspired, Cowboy-duping-Injun sleeve art itself. Currently a gang of three (besides vocalist-conceptualist Suran Song-the only grrrl among band boys, hence the band's moniker "in Stag"-there's co-conspirator/bassist-guitarist William Weis and a pool of great drummers), the group has impeccable and wittily inclusive post-punk references. Among their interpretations: a ballsy flying fuck at the Pretenders' untouchable "Tattooed Love Boys," a gusty rescue of "My Mother the War" from the genteel dustbin of 10,000 Maniacs, and a radical revamp of Duran Duran's "Friends of Mine" as a Rocky Horror bash for everyone's favorite closet case ("Marshall Mathers is coming out"-break out the insertable party favors!). Their own "Overman" lifts a riff from Heart's Jurassic-rock standard "Barracuda" and adds an Oscar-bait sample from Gandhi-a marriage of contradictions made in Brechtian heaven.
The SSIS Web site, where "Cowboys and Indians" along with their first cd, "Shiny Objects" and the bare-bones second CD "Pure Agitator" can be conveniently purchased-features a diagram of their portable "Agit-Stage," a Russian Constructivist-inspired, gasoline-generator powered trailer-stage for bringing their "guerrilla shows" to the streets (propaganda-art travels by U-Haul: downscale shades of Medvedkin's Kino-Train). In performance, Suran Song uses her body as a slide-show screen for projected images. On "Cowboys and Indians", her voice performs a similar function. At once fiercely engaged and disembodied, she's a proper idealist conducting a séance for the ghosts of radical Christmases past. Listening to the conviction she brings to the Lords of the New Church's sinister, hokey, and still irresistible "Open Your Eyes," you can't help realizing how different the world is now from then-that 1982's left-wing laundry list in 2001 comes off like nothing so much as Timothy McVeigh's Top 10 Rationales-without being entirely sure where sincerity leaves off and ye olde world-historic irony begins. Suran Song's kazoo horn section solo is a nice touch either way.
As Suran Song in Stag's good fight demands to be measured against the Gang of Four's paradoxical moment, the pure, nihilist unreason driving capitalism and revolutionary fantasies alike are grappled with on disc two, the "Indian Disc" of Cowboys and Indians. Composed mostly of the band's own material, Suran Song's voice becomes more insinuating, hinting at the freedoms and enigmas previously found by Lora Logic, the Au Pairs' Lesley Woods, and Romeo Void's Debora Iyall. Closing out with their own songs, the upright jazz bass of "Brainwash Soda/Guerrilla Pop" and the atmosphereic classical vocals of, "Velvet Cause," render mundane details as ethereal dreamscapes and vice versa. Suran Song in Stag breaks out of the long shadow of history into the great unknown. "Follow us, comrade aviators, swim into the abyss!"