Big Block 454 – Bells & Proclamations (folk-funk/ psychedelic rock)
self released, 2011, DD album, 48m 10s, £name your price
Big Block 454, named for a 1970 Chevrolet engine, are one of the oddest bands I’ve encountered in a while. They are creatively out there, full of weird sounds and transgressive stylistic collisions, and yet they are, to me at least, accessible, pleasing, and decidedly danceable. Apparently they’ve been around a long while: well, it’s not surprising if you haven’t heard of them, because as good as they are, I can’t imagine any record label monkey having the first clue how to sell this stuff!
The opener’s funky groove, its amusing title (‘Pyjamageddon’), its evocatively strange lyrics (‘her eyes were filled with dust’), its borderline atonal, Belew-esque guitar textures and its theatrically unhinged vocal delivery serve notice that this is a band with its own ideas about how to do things. The track that follows it starts out sounding funky, so you might think you’re starting to get a handle on them: but the vocal is in the style of English folksong, and much of the instrumental content is in the form of a chaotic, psychedelic jam. Despite the almost random seeming mish-mash of musical elements, the album does in fact have a strong stylistic identity and coherence.
It’s far from easy to take a bunch of disconnected stylistic features and shove them together into something that sounds like itself, but Big Block 454 have succeeded in admirable style: it’s a tribute to the clarity of artistic vision that informs this album, that it achieves a genuine fusion, where each sonic constituent is employed for its expressive effect, and there is nothing contrived about the bringing together of what might seem fundamentally incompatible musical traditions. Of course the tradition in which this music is actually located is that proud succession of stylistically diverse hallucinatory experimentalists, that leads by winding paths from the likes Henry Cow and Can, through Cardiacs and Throbbing Gristle, to the myriad strangenesses that the internet makes easier to seek out today. I’m disappointed not to have been aware of Big Block 454 for more of their history, but pleased to have found them now, and it is a wonderful thing that it is so easy to find their ilk from the louche comfort of my own chaise longue.
This is some truly alert, wakeful, questioningly creative music. It is also very funny: humour has often been an element of the most creatively adventurous music, as recorded by Gong for instance, or Frank Zappa. I tend to take it as a token of intellectual authenticity, in as much as self-importance tends to accompany pretentious contrivances, which have staked too much on their authors’ uncertainties to ever stop being defensive and just have a good laugh. This is the work of people who are comfortable with what they do, and are not motivated by a concern for whether or not others will think they’re clever. It flits from the daft to the profound like a coin spinning in mid air, and whichever side it lands on at the conclusion of a song, you’ve always had a good look at the obverse.