First of all, the question has to be asked, htf did this record release pass under my radar? I thought I was a magnet for all Mayo Thompson-related releases. Perhaps I was just guilty of imagining that Drag City was the only label with the expendable income (?) and good taste to release MT things, so I only looked at the DC site to see whether there were new Red Krayola releases (there hasn’t been one for a few years now, but the last one was freaken awesome) and didn’t delve further afield. Well, there was this, apparently and it came out a few years ago totally secretly. And the internet and any informants I thought I may have had just didn’t know either or in any case failed to let me know.
It’s one of those reinterpret-my-hits albums, with no new songs. Apparently Albert Oehlen was given the job of choosing which of MT’s back catalogue would be good to reinterpret with a freeform but pretty bangin’ Swedish/German jazz ensemble. Being a bigger MT fan than anyone in the world makes me judgmental in the extreme, and I have to say I wouldn’t have chosen most of these songs. There’s a trio from God Bless the Red Krayola, and good ones too – ‘Ravi Shankar Parachutist’, ‘Save the House’ and ‘Coconut Hotel’, but then everything on that album’s unbelievable, so hard to go wrong really. Then there’s a couple from the Corrected Slogans/Kangaroo records (I think they’re both on both albums), ‘Born to Win’ and ‘Plekhanov’. Always liked ‘Plekhanov’, not so sure about the other (since writing that originally I have come to greatly enjoy this version of the song; particularly the slightly atonal piano that tweets throughout). The others are random – nothing from Corky’s Debt, and the newest song is about thirty years old – it’s ‘The Sloths’, probably the weakest track on Black Snakes and probably the weakest here, too (also the longest).
So, we get a mix of interpretations of trippy sixties psychedelic art-rock; interpretations of overly verbose leftwing early seventies transatlantic Art (yes capital A) rock; and some other even less categorisable works that even fall outside ‘80s indie’, remade by a very sympathetic and vibrant group who most definitely have a strong pop sense. Johansson himself is a stupendous drummer – Thompson only works with the best from Jesse Chamberlain to Epic Soundtracks to god, you know, the others. Um, George Hurley. And more.
But in truth I think the most honest thing I could do is leave this review here for now and, in a few months when I have more insights from frequent listening to this incredible record, come back and scrub it all and write something with depth. If I still can.