The year 2000 was the year when some kind of technological breakdown was predicted. Known by the shorthand of Y2K, its dawn was thought to be the harbinger of power shortages brought about by the failure of vintage microchips to recognise the new millennium.
If you’re reading this via the medium of the World Wide Web, you now know the assorted communication breakdowns did not occur, and mankind’s Promethean hubris remained unpunished. Alas, Y2K did mark the final days of Washington DC ‘Gospel Yeh-Yeh’ outfit, The Make-Up, and the live recording that resulted in Untouchable Sound.
As hostility and disillusionment with modern mores was something of an agenda with this four-cum-five-piece, could this just be coincidence? Well probably yes, but that shouldn’t detract from enjoying Untouchable Sound as though it were the last dance at the Four Horsemen’s Ball.
Though claiming absolute sincerity in his various faux-radical ramblings, Make-Up’s lead nutter and agenda-bender Ian Svenonius (now lead nutter and agenda-bender with Weird War) is very, very hard to take seriously.
Thankfully, rather than dissolving this vampish set of soul-flavoured rock-outs into tedious exercises in ersatz tomfoolery, the Make-Up’s straight-faced goofing and extemporised testifying make Untouchable Sound a rare treasure. If anybody still needs an answer to the question does humour belong in music, the answer is ‘you bet your ass, it does’.
Svenonius’ oft-quoted discomfort with his native US is given full reign in the sci-fi conspiratorial environs of I Am Pentagon. Guitarist Alex Minoff summons sparkly arpeggios while James Canty consistently audible keyboards breathe comic foreboding into this everyday tale of geometry and cultural hegemony. Also, I Am Pentagon is the only song in history to contain ‘Sophocles’ and ‘decahedron’ within its lyric sheet. Unless Fall fans know better that is.
As with Weird War, Michelle Mae’s bass-lines dictate the direction of all this rock-action. At turns brooding (The Bells) and furtive (Born On The Floor), Mae’s playing is as busy as a bee in a honey pot.
Even when the live sound becomes inevitably swampy (as it does on the Seeds-like Intro and White Belts), Mae, Minoff, Canty and drummer Steve Gamboa are never far from reworking a groove from under the mire. Tracks like Call Me Mommy and They Live By Night may glide on Svenonius’ take on bug-eyed hippy-activism, but its the band that give them wings.
But Svenonius always leads from the front. With a performance patterned with Prince-style yelps, rhetorical ad-libbing, and fin de siecle prognosis, Svenonius may be a potentate of piss-take, but in pure Brechtian terms, his act goes all the way up to 11.
Facing down the carnally-tinged gospel standard Wade In The Water is certainly no mean feat. Maye Lux Interior and Sky Saxon got their first, but Svenonius’ bozo-cum-messiah is a worthy successor to their crown-of-corn.
However ironic the intentions are, Untouchable Sound is easily digestible as a piece of garagey rock ‘n’ roll – albeit slyly competent. And if the world as we know it still spins conservatively on after Y2K, fret not, Untouchable Sound will Make-Up for the disappointment.