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Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Slapp Happy - Sort Of (1972 germany / uk / us, brilliant art avant garde prog rock, 2024 japan SHM remaster and expanded)

Sort Of’s default setting is a pop Beefheart sketch. Sometimes this is vastly improved by ebullient and chaotic free jazz sax, as on ‘Paradise Express’, and sometimes not, as on the slight ‘Tutankhamun’. The seven-minute ‘Mono Plane’ is a masterpiece of this, though, where Faust’s rhythm section elevates the song far beyond its obvious debt to Beefheart’s ‘Mirror Man’ and into slamming, vice-tight avant-funk.

Faust had sounded primitivist and hypnotic like the Velvet Underground before – not least on their recently recorded ‘It’s A Rainy Day, Sunshine Girl’ – but never the prettier and more melodic version of the group. ‘Blue Flower’, sung by Dagmar Krause, is the latter.

Nobody gets a first prize for imitation, but ‘Blue Flower’ is an early version of a certain type of VU pastiche that would become ubiquitous across UK indie records about fifteen years later (and it’s to be mourned that more people will have heard Mazzy Star’s boring cover version than the triumphant original). Likewise, a thrillingly scrappy instrumental built on a twanging Shadows-style lead line somehow manages to predict the wonky guitar exuberance of Postcard Records. On the mournful ‘Small Hands Of Stone’, the arrangement mixes Canterbury with cabaret, and is the first recorded suggestion of Dagmar Krause’s interest in Weimar-era song and the work of Brecht, Weill and Eisler. This would become a vocation for the singer across her career.

Listeners can only make an educated guess as to what the experience of working with Slapp Happy might have done for Faust. Certainly, between 1972’s Sort Of and 1973’s Faust IV there’s an audible admission of pop ideas, brightness and melody that surfaces on now revered tracks like ‘Jennifer’ and ‘The Sad Skinhead’. These were not shades that were particularly audible on the first two Faust records. Though Slapp Happy are almost never considered when people write about Faust, it’s just as much a part of the German group’s white hot 1971-75 lifespan as the Tony Conrad collaboration Outside The Dream Syndicate.

Sort Of was released to little fuss in Germany and the UK, but Robert Wyatt’s championing of the record led them to sign straight away with Virgin. They recorded another album with the Faust rhythm section, which Virgin asked them to re-record with other musicians as 1974’s Casablanca Moon (the Faust recording only surfacing in 1980 as Acnalbasac Noom).

By that point, Slapp Happy were growing closer to labelmates Henry Cow. Where Slapp Happy were playful and optimistic, the music of Henry Cow was wintry, austere and far more beholden to complex time signatures. Those distinctions became apparent when the two groups consummated their merger, a move which produced two albums in twelve months, but really became an acquisition. When Blegvad and Moore decided to walk, Krause stayed put in the Cow. This ended Slapp Happy in 1975, but public apathy and record label indifference prompted a Henry Cow split three years later regardless.

Then something strange happened. The seemingly intractable differences brought about punk appeared to thaw after just three years. In 1979, Virgin records told the NME: “XTC are, if you like, carrying on in the tradition of Henry Cow and Slapp Happy.” That’s a funny way to speak about artists who the label had lost interest in only three years ago. It didn’t stop there. This Heat had been recommended to Anthony Moore by David Cunningham of the Flying Lizards, who was aware that Moore knew about tape loop experiments better than almost anyone in London. Anthony Moore co-produced This Heat’s 1979 debut. 
by  Fergal Kinney, 15 September 2023

1. Peter's Intro Poem - 1:26
2. Just A Conversation - 4:08
3. Paradise Express - 2:40
4. I Got Evil - 2:35
5. Little Girl's World - 3:36
6. Tutankhamun - 2:18
7. Mono Plane - 6:54
8. Blue Flower - 5:23
9. I'm All Alone - 2:54
10.Who's Gonna Help Me Now - 2:30
11.Small Hands Of Stone - 4:45
12.Sort Of - 2:24
13.Heading For Kyoto - 3:18
14.Here's Little Something - 3:15
15.War - 3:17
All compositions by Peter Blegvad, Anthony Moore
Bonus Tracks 14-15 recorded Live in June 25 1974 for John Peel, and broadcasted July 16 1974

*Peter Blegvad – Guitar, Saxophone, Vocals
*Dagmar Krause (credited as "Daggi") – Vocals, Tambourine, Piano, Woodblock
*Anthony Moore – Guitar, Keyboards, Vocals
*Gunter Wusthoff – Saxophone on "Paradise Express" and "I'm All Alone"
*Werner "Zappi" Diermaier – Drums
*Jean-Herve Peron – Bass guitar
(Tracks 14,15)
*Robert Wyatt Ellidge - Drums, Voices
*Fred Frith - Guitars, Violin
*Lindsey Cooper - Bassoon
*Geoff Leigh - Saxophone
*Jeff Clyne - Bass

1974  Slapp Happy - Acnalbasac Noom (2005 extra tracks remaster)