Friday, August 17, 2007

Suicide - American Supreme

For the moment, I'd like to move away from the traditional emo/hardcore stuff I've been posting, and look at something a little stranger, and also a bit more recent. This post is kind of in connection with the latest post on Steady Diet, but really only in name.

Suicide's latest album, American Supreme, released in 2002, is really worth listening to. Suicide are most famous for their debut s/t album (you know, the one with the smeared blood on the cover) but since then they have continued to release some very interesting work.

Suicide exist outside of traditional music genres, although they can be described as being part of the 70's 'no-wave' movement. Really, they are a punk band without guitars and, listening to their records, I can feel that they have equally a 'hardcore' aesthetic and spirit. The term 'alternative' does absolutely no justice to the extremes which Suicide take their music to, and neither does it comprehend the extent to which they subvert and pervade 'pop'.

Suicide are two people: Alan Vega, who does vocals, and Martin Rev, who does instruments. Vega and Rev met, I think, in a New York art gallery. Soon the two were experimenting with the combination of tortured spoken word vocals and a really cheap drum machine. Suicide's first album can roughly be described as a demented, echoey Elvis crooning quietly over an unhealthy-sounding motorbike engine. Strangely enough, that same album was at the same time a beautiful collection of sweet pop songs; albeit ones which occasionally descended into anarchic violence, most notably 'Frankie Teardrop', possibly the first screamo song ever recorded.

But I'm not reviewing their first album here, merely referring to it to illustrate the progress of the band since. Suicide's sound and musical structure has remained recognizably similar, yet all the while adapting to the music of contemporary culture. Hence, while the first two records are recognizable as 70's electronic music (and are lauded/blamed for inspiring the electronica/new wave genre, e.g. Soft Cell), their 1992 album, Why Be Blue? is much more dance-orientated. And American Supreme, a 21-st century album by a definitively 20-th century band, draws heavily on - but what else? - hip-hop. Well - because they are from the 1970s - very funky hip hop (One track, 'Wrong Decisions' even has sampled horns... under the chorus line "Mom's not breathing"). Indeed, if you've ever wanted to hear hip-hop played like weird 70s electronica, this is very possibly the album for you.

Finally, a discussion of either this album, or of Suicide as a whole, would be lacking with some mention of the lyrical content. As you may guess from the cover, this album is very political, with songs like 'Televised Executions', 'Swearin' to the Flag', etc. If memory serves me right, 'Frankie Teardrop' followed the story of disturbed vet gone murderously insane. Suicide haven't exactly mellowed much since, if the intensity of this album is anything to go buy. The insert sheet has no lyrics, but rather (printed on an eye-wateringly intense orange background) a series of quotes from various celebrities (such as Iggy Pop, Guy Debord and Donny Osmond) and musings on the creative process, consumerism, fame and art. This is not your standard anti-capitalist manifestoism; rather, it's something much more challenging, philosophical and provocative. For example:

5; How can you think clearly in a record shop?
Pop, of course, is built on daydreams conjured up in suburbia. Pop comes from the outside looking in, from howling at the moon, from wanting a way out. Pop is a dream mass-produced, packaged and repackaged, replicated, copied and sold back to us. It is the sound of creativity spawned from boredom; a source of ideas raised only to be pillaged. Pop is the last gasp before the day job grabs you, a scream in the face of the nine to five, a futile alternative to washing the car. Pop is an inevitable failure, a second of brilliance and a lifetime of grey. Pop is disappointment in multiple.


12; Is suicide a solution?
A life caught in fragments is a life in which key moments are seized. In its unwholesomeness comes an expression of what it is to be alive, replete with defects, unevenness and disappointment. Here in lies 'shreds snatched from complete nothingness', a product of people caught in particular period of time. When creativity becomes a 'career choice', it becomes a forced irrelevance. Keep off the payroll.

Suicide - American Supreme

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