I scoured the internet looking for information about the Jelly Bishops. And by scoured I mean I went to Discogs and Googled. And I came up with surprisingly little information. Sure, I can tell you that one of the members was Jon Langford of The Mekons, and it appears that the 1988 EP Kings of Barstool Mountain was their only release. Basically the only other thing I could find was a 2012 review of this album posted on, of all places, Amazon, but a guy going by MrJM.
That’s basically it, as near as I can tell. All three members use pseudonyms on the jacket reverse, adding to the air of mystery. And with song titles like “Crushed Armadillo,” “Cannibals of the Highway,” and “Jelly Bishop Dance (Sword of Islam)” you just know it’s going to be weird. Oh, did I mention the picture on the jacket reverse that looks like a butchered pig head (maybe a cow?) with a cross drawn on its forehead? I mean, how could I not buy this?
I’m not sure how to describe Kings of Barstool Mountain. I guess psychobilly as close as I can do, like some mutant hybrid of rockabilly and death rock. I mean, this is some weird stuff. I feel like it’s something I wouldn’t listen to often, but then again, I’ve spun it three times already and just bought it yesterday, so I guess that says it all.
Unless you live in Washington, you’ve probably never heard of the town of Anacortes. And even if you do live here, you probably only associate it with the ferry terminal where you can catch boats to and from the San Juan Islands. It’s one of those places where lots of people pass through every day, but seldom ever stop to think about what living there is actually like. The two main members of SiLM are among those who call Anacortes home, and their brand of wistful shoegaze creates an image of a place on the edge of reality, one with access to most of the accouterments of modern society but existing at a slower pace, somewhat unconcerned by what’s happening “out there”.
Musically Listen Within has a sort of languid psychedelic quality, that phase you pass through when you’re just about to transition from wakefulness to sleep, when you have that sense of calm contentment as your brain passes into a different state. Hannah Stephens’ vocals add a dreaminess to the songs, while Luuk Honey’s lower range keeps you more grounded, like he’s holding the balloon that is Hannah and keeping her from floating completely away.
You can listen to Listen Within, as well as pick up a copy of the vinyl for just $13, on the SiLM Bandcamp page HERE.
Originally released on CD back in 1991, the eight song Japanese psych comp Tokyo Flashback got the vinyl treatment in 2017. A double LP with a gatefold jacket and slipcase, it carries all the hallmarks of high quality Japanese production, the printing flawless, the materials beautiful. The one complaint with the physical product, however, is how snuggly the gatefold fits into the slipcase – others have also remarked about how difficult it is to remove the jacket to get at the records, and I can attest to this from personal experience, with my slipcase suffering from a corner ding from when I dropped it while trying to separate the two. Such is life.
Japanese artists have carved out some special musical niches, and one of these is psych. I first got turned onto this scene thanks to Julian Cope’s 2007 book Japrocksampler, which introduced me to artists like Les Rallizes Denudes and Flower Travellin’ Band, and later after seeing a live performance by the insanely intense Bo Ningen. And while it’s not music I want to listen to all the time, I’m completely fascinated by the crushing sonic wall these performers unleash. And Tokyo Flashback provides plenty of fuzz and feedback and jamming, more than enough to make my brain feel like a scrambled egg.
There’s a certain nihilism to Singapore Sling. It’s not the nihilism that burns hot and causes one to lash out at the world, but more one of resignation, the sense of a unceasing buzz in your mind that you can’t shake, a slow death by a thousand cuts, the adding of the tiniest weights onto your chest done so slowly that you can’t even sense the change but that over time makes it harder and harder to breathe. Hell, it’s right there in the song titles. Killer Classics gives us “Nothing Matters But Rock ‘N’ Roll”. Prior to that we got “Nothing’s Theme” and “Nothing And Nowhere” on an album called Kill Kill Kill (Songs About Nothing), and “Nuthin’s Real” on The Tower of Fornicity. And the list goes on. “The Nothing Inside”; “Nothin’ Ain’t Bad”; and a possible candidate simply called “Noth”. That’s a whole lot of nothing. If there are three overarching themes to Singapore Sling’s music they are:
Death (including killing and various forms of destruction)
Rock ‘N’ Roll
My perception is that in this trinity Nothing and Death are the elements out there in the world, the weights being put on top of you, the inevitable outcome to life. Rock ‘N’ Roll, however, is the salvation. It’s the one thing that cracks the wall of nihilism, the one thing that makes life worth living. I’m probably extrapolating a bit on the Rock ‘N’ Roll part, but bear with me. “Nothing Matters But Rock ‘N’ Roll”, we’re told on the latest album, which is a step in the right direction from when the Slingers opined back in 2004 that Life Is Killing My Rock ‘N’ Roll (which included a song of the same name). The feeling I get when I listen to Singapore Sling is that of driving at night, the windows rolled down and the air coming up from the road still radiating heat from the day’s scorching sun, racing to escape that constant buzz of Nothing and Death chasing you in the rear view mirror, trying to outrace fate. And, of course, blasting Singapore Sling’s psych soundtrack to it all on the car stereo.
Right from the opening riff of “Suicide Twist” (Death again!) it was clear what Singapore Sling has in store for us on Killer Classics (more Death). They’ve honed their brand of shoegazey-psych to a sharp edge and they use it with the precision of surgeons, cutting away the pretense and bloat of what rock has become and skinning it down to its most basic and rawest elements. The drum beats are the relentless pressure of life, the fuzz of the guitars the unceasing pressure trying to overwhelm you, the bass following your heartbeat as it rises and falls as you struggle to maintain your sanity, and the vocals are the voice inside your head, the one that sometimes tells you that you can do it, but at other times calls for the sweet release of death.
Based on what you hear on classic rock radio, you could be forgiven for thinking that Pink Floyd only released two albums, Dark Side of the Moon and The Wall. OK, maybe sometimes you’ll also get a song from Wish Your Were Here, specifically one of the songs not called “Shine On You Crazy Diamond”. There were a few great songs on A Momentary Lapse of Reason, though I couldn’t tell you how long it’s been since I heard either one of them. Meanwhile I can’t seem to go more than an hour without the radio giving me “Comfortably Numb”, “Another Brick In the Wall (Part II)”, or “Time”. All of which are great songs. Tremendous songs, quite frankly. But what about poor Animals? It’s like that album never even existed. Where’s the love for “Pigs (Three Different Ones)”? As for anything recorded prior to A Dark Side of the Moon, it may as well have been recorded by a completely different band named Pink Floyd given how widely it’s ignored. (♠)
Which brings me to Meddle. I’m spinning this for the first time in, I don’t know, probably 30+ years. And frankly I’d forgotten how excellent it is. “One of These Days” is truly one of Pink Floyd’s best songs, and if “Fearless” had been on Led Zeppelin IV, which came out the same year as Meddle, it would be played on classic rock radio daily (though I’m not sure Zep could have pulled off the “You’ll Never Walk Alone” sample at the end).
Not sure why Meddle is so overlooked. Sure, “Seaums” is weird, and the entire B side is given over to a single 23+ minute track. But there are still some truly great songs here.
(♠) Floyd fans, I’m not dismissing these works. On the contrary. I’m just pointing out that they basically don’t exist as far as most people are concerned, but that in fact they’re worthy of being played just as much as their more popular brethren. So please, no hate mail.