The Hope Blister
Underarms and Sideways
Back in the golden Era of alternative music, when the first and second waves of punk had subsided and before Nirvana surfed in on the third, 4AD records was the unlikely heavyweight champion. The common thread was the filigree-heavy unreadable graphic design of their semi-famous v23 design team (I think they were 23 Envelope then) but the music was all over the map. You had the Cocteau Twins with their twinkle-twinkle-little-Quaalude delay pedal spa music, the sweet danger of the Pixies, the ragged glory of the Throwing Muses, but I was partial to This Mortal Coil, the loose collection revolving around label chief Ivo Watts-Russell to do spectral cover songs. Ivo let the project die, but come 1998, his itch for the studio needed scratching, so he pulled in a scaled back core team for more cover tune magic called The Hope Blister.
Their sole album ...em>smiles OK consisted of skeletal covers of Eno, John cale and Chris Knox songs, and was a noble effort but didn't really grab the spotlight. What did however was the mail order only Underarms, a blessed out remix of the tracks engineered by Ivo when original band went into permanent hiatus. I remember the quiet buzz about this record; that it was more 4AD than anything before. It was practically 5AD, so astounding was its ethereality. This record has been re-released a decade hence, and while most stuff from the era is painfully dated, Underarms holds its water. It's a rather monochromatic affair for most of the record, the creaky chair and surf over a Kraftwerk sequence on "Friday afternoon" flowing nicely into the herky-jerky tape echo madness on "Iota" giving into out-of-body-experience shimmer on "Sweet Medicine 2." I'd be hard pressed to say it cuts new ground in the world of drone music, but then what really does? It's a toasty, organic wave of twinkling lights.
The occasion for this reissue came about when remix stud Markus Guentner ran into Ivo at the laundromat or something and sung its praises and lamented it being out of print. Ivo was touched enough to invite Guentner to give the a Underarms a second melting dwn, resulting in the disc Sidearms that comes with the reissue. The effect on this third run through the material is akin to Xeroxing a Xerox, the edges give way to mechanical fuzz, and details blur. Its as enjoyable as its source material, but it has a colder, more mechanical edge to it.
My advice would be to hand this CD next to the kids from Black Dice and let them mold it into a static Tourettes dancefloor stmop, and then give it one more time to Al Jourgensen (he got a Grammy nomination for metal Performance the other night, I think. Did any of you even know Ministry was still in operation? Were the only copies of the CD distributed to the judging committee?) to make it a giant death sludge masterpiece, and then there can be a string section and bluegrass tributeand then dogs will play with cats and Kirk will wrestle Picard in the mud pits of Rigel 7 and the skies will open up, and the universe will finally reach a totality, signifying everythng has been Done, and we will see that old Nietzsche was right after all about the Doctrine of Eternal recurrence, and it will all start over in order. Amen.
Alex V. Cook listens to everything and writes about most of it. His latest book, the snappily titled Louisiana Saturday Night: Looking for a Good Time in South Louisiana's Juke Joints, Honky-Tonks, and Dance Halls is an odyssey from the backwoods bars and small-town dives to the swampside dance halls and converted clapboard barns of a Louisiana Saturday Night. Don't leave Heathrow without it. His first book Darkness Racket and Twang is available from SideCartel. The full effect can be had at alex v cook.com