Thursday, 2 October 2014

Severed Heads - Gigapus (1994)

Much like Australia's flora and fauna, Australia's Severed Heads always seemed to inhabit some peculiar evolutionary tangent to everything else, not least to those artists generally but probably wrongly regarded as their kin through a shared habit of pissing about with drum machines. Formed in the late seventies, even the sarcasm implicit in their name was at least a decade ahead of its time - mocking the likes of Throbbing Gristle and SPK whilst later presenting the delicious contrast of something which may as well have been named after a horror film yielding some of the sweetest pop music you could ever wish to hear.

Seriously, Severed Heads were never merely an interesting band, one of those acts with which you might bulk up a tape of Skinny Puppy and Front 242 for the sake of variety. There was something absolutely vital and fundamental about them. My first Severed Heads record was Rotund For Success picked up at Greenwich market probably only a year or so before Gigapus came out. I'd heard the name and assumed it might be my sort of thing. It so transpired that it was my sort of thing, and within three weeks I'd obsessively tracked down every other record I could find by them.

In search of comparisons, it's a tough job where Severed Heads are concerned. Aside from an obvious lack of boogie-woogie piano, guitar riffage, or a man in silver trousers stood screaming from a podium, they never sounded or felt like any of those other electronic bands, except I suppose bits of Chris & Cosey if you squint a little. They peddled none of the usual drearily industrial fixations, never marched up and down a stage exhorting audience members to work that body, and early Brian Eno albums are the only records I can recall doing anything similar, although the resemblance is nevertheless thin. Leaving aside those weird understated songs which tear out your heart, I guess the clue to the Severed Heads sound was always their pushing forward, creating music some way in advance of its time, notably on the Big Bigot album which you would swear features sampling technology, although apparently most of it was done with tapes and elbow grease.

Gigapus was their last major release prior to Volition Records imploding, and with subsequent albums appearing as CDrs direct from the band - an inauspicious tail end to the story one might suspect, although it should probably be noted that even this was ahead of the trend, or at least ahead of persons such as myself developing the expectation of CDr only albums usually being shit. Gigapus sounds odd to me in so much as it seems to represent technology having finally caught up with the band's ambition, all of these sounds being tailored digitally rather than through sleepless nights of messing about with tapes and effects boxes. Nevertheless, Gigapus still avoids sounding quite like anyone else using the same clobber. It doesn't hold together quite so well as Rotund For Success, not least because the instrumental tracks are in the majority, but neither is it the disappointing last real album I feared. In fact, it's hard to believe that Gigapus was recorded two decades ago. At the risk of committing hyperbole, Severed Heads really were one of the greatest bands of all time, and even this - not quite one of their greats - serves as further evidence of the fact.

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