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Sun City Girls
Funeral Mariachi Richie Troughton , December 17th, 2010 08:43

Raised on the milk of a goat-nymph and the honey of sacred bees, Sun City Girls were not like other bands, and they did not die like other bands. The mysterious masked trio consumed and appropriated styles from all around the world, off the beaten path, on a trail of never ending discovery, sucking it in, spewing it out and making it their own. They blazed a singular path with turn on a dime time changes, telepathic improvisation between the members - even a bit of kabuki theatre and shadow puppetry.

Released on what would have been their 30th anniversary, Funeral Mariachi is the Sun City Girls' final studio long player, recorded before drummer Charles Gocher's death in February 2007. Like one of the dial-twiddling collages from their Carnival Folklore Resurrection radio series, cut-up opener 'Ben's Radio' is a delirious and unexpectedly fun start for an album which has an unmistaken deathly air lingering about it. Capturing the band at their most playful, it conjures images of the group on one of their excursions to faraway lands; flicking through local radio stations to create a spontaneous collage of the new and alien sounds they were hearing, along with other obscure gems picked up from street market cassette vendors. Cartoonish voices babbling a jibberish jive, somehow held together with a freewheeling palm muted psychedelic guitar solo from Sir Richard Bishop. Like much of their best work, you could be forgiven for believing that you're listening to a compilation, such is the myriad of far-reaching sounds dropped into the mix. Except that's usually over the course of an album; this is just one song.

The Girls do settle down somewhat after that however, as they deliver probably the most coherent and sharpest set of tunes they ever penned on one set. 'The Iman' mixes teasing middle eastern guitar patterns with kazoo-like horns and squeaking toys blaring over bassist Alan Bishop's brooding vocals. "Babaaaaa," he calls longingly on 'Black Orchid', over ringing bells, woozy strumming, a ramshackle assortment of background percussion, and a slowed down dabke-style keyboard solo as the ethereal cries of Sunn O))) collaborator Jessica Kenney drift over the top.

"When I was dead I looked exactly like you, now I'm alive where nothing is true," sings Alan on 'This Is My Name,' one of the few songs to feature any kind of decipherable language. A parched march through the desert, built on Gocher's pattering hand percussion – Sir Richard teasing streams of sustained feedback from his guitar. Kenney's voice is again used to hauntingly colour the dreamy 'Vine Street Piano', a gentle sad lament at the end of the first half, and signaling a move further into cowboy soundtrack territory on the flip. The Western-themed 'Blue West' would not have been at all out of place on Six Organs of Admittance's last record, Luminous Night. With striking hallucinatory chords, the track evokes the stunning glare of the bright yellow sun, perforating dust baked settings with its dizzying swirls of mellotron. Listening here, it's no surprise that Six Organs' Ben Chasny is now playing alongside Sir Rick in free out rock super psychers, Rangda. Staggering further, 'Holy Ground' finds Alan chanting an apocryphal incantation of angels and divinity as Rick peels off effortlessly deft stream of conscious solos.

The following three delicately arranged tracks flow on a thread of measured instrumentation, reflecting SCG's work on soundtrack scores, including for Harmony Korine's Mister Lonely. 'Mineral Wells,' makes way for the sad, plinking, late night bar piano of 'El Solo'. Swooning on a duet of "doo doos" between Alan and Kenney, an outburst of off-mic laughter bursts that forming lump in the throat. The Girls take the cinematic theme to its natural conclusion by tackling the master of the genre on penultimate track 'Come Maddalena' – an Ennio Morricone composition on which their handling is as convincing as any of their own wagon rollin' efforts.

And so by the end, we are not expecting celebratory Mexican wedding music, and closer 'Funeral Mariachi' blurts sorrowful trumpet lines over wayward noodles. The last note is left for Charles, as the final drum crash rings out into silence.

While uncompromising over 50-plus largely self-released albums, SCG always sounded like they were having fun making records for themselves. Lucky for the rest of us, we got to hear the results. Less jazzy and grander in scope Funeral Mariachi is an instantly essential and long awaited addition, posthumously adding more ammo to the canon of these the backpacking dervishes and as good a place to start as any. As people sleep, these spaghetti Easterns live on.

Click here to buy Sun City Girls - Funeral Mariachi