10 out of 12 Nut Music As Free As the Squirrels cover

Starship Beer - Nut Music As Free As the Squirrels
(Atavistic)

Some items in Atavistic's wonderful Unheard Music Series are unheard because they were never released. Some just never found their audience, being released on miniscule labels at the wrong time. Starship Beer may not only be a band who never found their audience, but they may be a band that has no audience whatsoever.

Originally self-released in 1980 to absolutely no one, Starship Beer seem at first to be idiot savant musicians in the style of Half Japanese--boasting little technical ability, their music is driven almost entirely by spirit. These damaged art-rock constructions bear lots of resemblance to the Red Krayola's late 60s noodling more than anything else.

Staying true to the improvisatory nature of most other Unheard Music releases, Nut Music boasts that it was recorded without any overdubs (save one track that is two performances superimposed). Starship Beer are a lot closer to rock, as the opening track "Black/White White/Black" proclaims--the deranged vocals, screaming exactly in the style of Captain Beefheart, over fierce, noodling electric guitar and bass without any drums--it's music to make Daron Gardner just shudder in fear.

The album seems to be split between these types of songs (reaching the climax in the vulgar "Chris the Nasty Boy") and the Beer's instrumental experiments. Often sounding like they are playing their instruments for the first time, this primitive jazz/skronk represents art-rock's most shameless excesses. However, some moments are actually quite enjoyable, especially the piano solo of "Wheatland Wyoming."

"Talking Winks" is probably the most ridiculous track--vocalist Pat O'Brien singing through a recorder. It's totally self-indulgent, but fun nonetheless, and it actually made me laugh out loud. "Ghosts of Owls" is a similar vocal experiment--perhaps it's a mockery of free jazz, or perhaps it's just some goofy students having fun.

To top off Nut Music, Atavistic has generously included a half-hour of bonus tracks, with some real gems, such as the heartwarming "10-4 Big Buddy" (a paean to the CB radio that actually approaches a traditional song (only undermined by the extremely poor performance)). There are excerpts from some long improvisations from 1986, a recording-by-mail experiment from 1978, and even a short one-act play that has completely unintelligible dialog.

This may not be a very listenable record--goofy, noisy and unfocused, it's not something for everyone--but music like this is the reason I play music. Starship Beer were unhindered by their lack of talent and played anyway, having fun and pushing the limits of just how stupid music can be, while at the same time creating something actually worth listening to.

john fail
2001 aug 17