Review Summary: Aliens invaded Earth on 1990.
My mother is Cuban, and every time she takes a shower she blasts her Cuban radio stations (we Cubans are not a minority here in Miami). One time I couldn't help noticing a particular song being played called "Llorando Se Fue". Although it was a Spanish song and I tend not to listen to any Spanish music, it was a melody I had recognized. They're putting Sun City Girls on the radio"!
I thought at first. I later learned Sun City Girls had not originally written that song; they had merely covered it, renaming it "The Shining Path". (I later found out there is a more popular version of the song called "Lambada" in Portuguese, which was an unauthorized translation of the original, and may have been the one I heard that day.) To this day I wonder how many of their songs are actually covers.
But it should not matter if even all of their songs were covers, because whether you've even heard the original or not, you would know Sun City Girls have added their own unique touch of weirdness. For starters, the indiscernible vocals on "The Shining Path", upon closer listening, sound like Americans trying to sing in Spanish -- and failing -- not miserably, but in terms that are somehow appropriate to the weird nature of its album.
Torch of the Mystics
is a trip into a whole new planet; to listeners unfamiliar with such weird music, "bizarre" would be an understatement. Sun City Girls mix surf rock with elements of world music, New Weird America chanting, and alien vocals reminiscent of a higher-pitched Captain Beefheart. "Blue Mamba" may seem like friendly surf rock jamming at first, but when it ends three minutes later you'll realize it never really went anywhere conventional. It may very well have been improvised (again, this should not matter). Then with the very first line of "Tarmac 23" -- well, who knows what line that is; it's incomprehensible -- the crazy ritual commences.
The first four tracks play a fun, almost drunken kind of surf rock with crazy cult-like vocals and a surreal jamming style that may or may not have been improvised (Sun City Girls have been known to improvise). "Space Prophet Dogon" nearly sounds anthemic -- well, maybe if you're into cults or something, but still; it could very well be the anthem of a cult. Although I have no idea what the lyrics are, the melody is very anthemic. I imagine the cult members will have to be very drunk and not care what they are babbling, but it could be done. It should
be done. . . .
With "The Shining Path" the bluesy surf rock guitars fade away and the album shifts into a more folky, worldly sound. This song, being the cover of a normal one, may be the least weird song in the album (even though it sounds like they don't even know the lyrics). "The Flower" is even more folky, albeit with a slightly ethnic twist: it sounds like it could belong with the freak folk scene of today. It actually sounds like Animal Collective could have been inspired by it in their song "Bees", with its extraterrestrial vocals and its George Harrison sitar strums. The vocals in "The Flower", however, sounds ten times stranger, like a prayer to summon the dead.
Their prayers get even weirder with songs like "Cafe Batik", "Papa Legba" and "Burial in the Sky". "Cafe Batik"'s eerie, haunting falsetto dumbfounds yet resonates within like a Hindu mantra. "Papa Legba" features chickens clucking -- or is it humans" -- amid more unearthly weirdness. "Burial in the Sky" could not end the album more perfectly: it literally sounds like a hymn out of a witch's spellbook or a Satanic bible. Its droning moans and childlike "ahn-ahn-ahn-ahn" chants sound sinister, ethereal and beyond spiritual.
Even if you're in the mood for their strangely entrancing vocals, the instrumental passages ("Esoterica of Abyssynia", "Radar 1941", "The Vinegar Stroke") are worth playing out. In fact, they complete the album; if Torch of the Mystics
consisted purely of its bizzare, numinous vocals it might sound like a gimmick. "Esoterica of Abyssinia" and "Radar 1941" jam out enticing surf rock with a touch of New Weird America psychedelia. "The Vinegar Stroke" fits neatly into the more ethnic half of the album with a trippy sitar played like John Fahey. These instrumental jams may be Sun City Girls' catchiest -- or maybe that's because I've listened to them so many times.
Torch of the Mystics
, although undeniably strange, is by far Sun City Girls' most accessible album. It may not be as exotic or ambitious as 330,003 Crossdressers from Beyond the Rig Veda
, but it plays for a digestible length of 38 minutes and contains no filler. Torch of the Mystics
shines deep in the mines of '90s avant-rock; it is a milestone, just as how Trout Mask Replica
defined '60s avant-rock.