November 8, 2010

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Floodwatch is applewood-smoked and nitrate-free.

For the mid-‘90s electronic music enthusiast, a release from Yorkshire-based Pork Recordings was guaranteed to have the following two characteristics: a dependably high level of quality and a frustrating inability to be acquired easily and cheaply–at least here in the States. For the unfamiliar, Pork issued slightly over a hundred 7- and 12-inches, EPs, and full-lengths in a roughly ten-year span, and appeared to succeed by keeping a small, manageable roster of artists and let them do whatever the hell they want. Provided you could actually get your hands on one, a Pork release was a treasured little piece of polycarbonate plastic containing only the highest caliber of downtempo, whether it bore the name Baby Mammoth, Moss, Bullitnuts, or if luck happened to lean your way, Fila Brazillia, the label’s flagship act.

Electronic music went through its envelope-pushing stage during the Clinton years, a time when just six months made the difference between hopelessly stale and cutting-edge next shit. Yet David McSherry and Steve Cobby, professionally known as Fila Brazillia, couldn’t have been less concerned with game-changing nonsense. Their specialty was a unique flavor of organic downtempo constructed from whatever detritus happened to be lying around the shop: bits and pieces of acid jazz, jungle, Chicago house, post-rock, Tropicalia, whatever. The duo honed a sound that was so unique, so unequivocally theirs that attempts to nestle one of their tracks into a volume of Chillout Hits or some faceless Tropical Lounge compilation would cause the same unwelcome disruption of flow as an entry from a Nordic black metal band. Between ‘94 and ‘99 Fila Brazillia released seven long-players under the Pork banner and while each one is just about as essential as the others, it’s 1998’s Power Clown that lacks a single misstep, marvelously distilling those disparate musical elements into a single 63-minute suite of perfection.

Allow me a moment, if you will, to share something about myself. If you apply the two-word phrase “bovine funk” to a person, place, or thing, by default it becomes my favorite. Doesn’t matter what it is. A band name or genre tag, for example. A television show. An after-dinner cocktail or strain of bud. Change the name of the greater municipality of East St. Louis to “Bovine Funk, IL” and not only will I pack up and move there, I’ll run for mayor in the next city election. Coincidentally, these two words happen to be the title of Power Clown’s opening salvo, a rollicking funk assault that is equal parts Blaxploitation chase sequence and an outtake from Miles Davis’ Dark Magus (1973). To expound on the latter, it sounds like what would have happened if the leader had left the stage for a spell at some point during the concert and the band tried to make the Carnegie Hall audience actually dance instead of inflicting permanent hearing loss. If this cut doesn’t get some part of your body moving by the end of the first 60 seconds, well, I’m sure your eulogy was a heartfelt and moving one.

Like any other entry in the Fila discography, the song titles here hold as much entertainment value as the music contained within: “Bumpkin Riots,” “President Chimp Toe,” “Here Comes Pissy Willy,” and I mentioned that the record is titled Power Clown, right? As the album continues its momentum, the proceedings only get more bizarre. “The New Cannonball” struts along to a swaggering Fat Albert groove while a whistling monosynth dances across its path, with memorable cameos from a slide guitar and some exotic chanting. The aforementioned “Pissy Willy” begins with what sounds like a cutting-room-floor excerpt from Tortoise’s TNT (1998) sessions until abruptly morphing into an indescribably awesome electro breakdown colored by bursts of pitch-shifted brass. The weirdness continues into “Throwing Down a Shape,” as a thumping 808 drum pattern mutates into a slinky tropical shuffle. “Firelanes” is a nocturnal cruise through the seedier end of town accompanied by Ernie Isley’s guitar in the passenger seat, and closer “The Speewah” manages to synthesize beatboxing, a nervous bass lick, and bit-crushed robotic crooning into a irresistible ass-shaker. If this all sounds like an attention-deficit jump-cut through an insane asylum, it is – only the facility is housed within an amusement park and everyone’s dancing.

Sadly, though perhaps unsurprisingly, Power Clown and the rest of Fila Brazillia’s ‘90s output have been out of print for years. Fortunately, most of the defunct Pork Recordings catalogue can be downloaded through Amazon or iTunes. Chalk it up to poor overseas distribution or the tidal wave of Big Beat that was flooding the world at the time, but Power Clown didn’t get a fraction of the shine it deserved the first time around. It’s a run worth revisiting.

Download:
MP3: Power Clown-“Bovine Funk”
MP3: Power Clown-“Here Comes Pissy Willy”

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