Review Summary: A low-key late night jam from two of the underground's most important outsiders
On paper the combination of Alan Vega
and Alex Chilton
might sound incredibly random due to their radically different styles. The former was known for fashioning himself as an apocalyptic doomsayer-cum-classic rock ‘n’ roll vocalist in the legendary proto-electropunk duo Suicide
. The latter got his start singing on the 60’s chart-topper “The Letter” with the Box Tops while reaching the arguable peak of his powers with Big Star
, a power-pop band whose outsized influence on alternative music cannot be overstated. It’s hard to reconcile the idea of the singers of “Frankie Teardrop” and “Thirteen” cutting a record together; yet, in cahoots with multi-instrumentalist Ben Vaughn, they recorded nearly an hour of music during two pitch-black nights in New York City. The resulting 62-minute Cubist Blues
is both fascinating as a meeting-of-the-minds and exhausting as a listening proposition, quite possibly one of the strangest collaborative efforts that side of Lulu
The tracks on this album (save for a narcoleptic and brief reinterpretation of Suicide’s classic “Dream Baby Dream” at the end) are not so much “songs” but moods. There’s not much structure to be found on each song, and the instrumentation is fairly limited – a consistent motorik beat lays under each song, dressed up by sparse bursts of guitar and Vega’s characteristic howling and indecipherable mannerisms. This formula prevails for the whole album, and many of the songs can blend into each other as a result. “Fat City” fares the best, with Chilton’s classic-sounding and unrushed rock guitar adding some color between the beats. The 12-bar blues piano and fairly-focused lyricism on “Lover of Love” are also a highlight. However, most tracks on the album feel content to wander around for upwards of 6-to-8 minutes and wear out their welcome quickly. “Freedom” is a prime example of the album at its most tedious with its standard chord progression (most reminiscent to me of the title track from Neutral Milk Hotel
’s In the Aeroplane Over the Sea
), and “Sister” is uncomfortable to listen to with its tired guitars.
functions best as the product of two icons setting aside their storied histories and the expectations that come with such pasts for an off-the-cuff jam session. This is a minor album by design for both Vega and Chilton, and is sure to be at least an intriguing curio for hardcore fans of either artist. However, even as a more casual fan of both of these artists, I found the task of listening to this album to be incredibly dull and exhausting. While I can’t criticize this album for not being innovative because of its inherent low-stakes nature, the repetitive nature of the album eliminates the album’s replay value almost immediately after one listen. If you can’t get enough of Alan Vega’s signature style or are looking for something decidedly unconventional to listen to, this album might be worth checking out. If you’re not in either of those groups, I’d wholeheartedly suggest going back to the classics; it’s a gift that we live in an age now where Suicide and Big Star are just a click away.