Tuesday, November 4, 2008

A weird one

Mark Tucker
In the Sack
(De Stilj)
US release date: 9 September 2008
UK release date: Available as import

by Jennifer Kelly

Originally self-released in 1982, In the Sack is a mad, funhouse-mirrored excursion through offbeat field recordings, improvised piano jams, twisted original pop and subtly warped standards. You might write it off as the work of a loony, namely Mark Tucker, aka T. Storm Hunter, a disaffected postal worker and self-recorder. You might, that is except for one surpassingly beautiful pop song tucked away amid nutter ramblings. The song, “Everywhere with Sally”, is included twice on this reissue. The first time, and the best, is the version that Tucker intended. It’s recorded backwards but phonetically backwards, so that you can make out the stretched and elided lyrics. Hard to convey exactly how mysteriously gorgeous the song becomes, the notes hissing and blossoming and distorting within a pristine pop melody like a lucid-dream version of the Clean’s prettiest melody. Even conventionally, played forward near the end, it’s a winner, though not so remarkable.

Elsewhere Tucker’s songs convey the difficulties of unconventional intelligence thwarted at work, at home and in love. His surreptitiously recorded “The Importance of Making Molehills of Specks” contains all you need to know about all-hands meetings at the local postal office, while his wickedly awry “Attractive” skewers the tennis-playing lookers on his delivery route. This is never a comfortable listen. In fact, even the covers — what I think of as the “easy listening” portion of the disc — are unsettling. A flowery, piano-trilling, loop-vocalled version of “When I Fall in Love”, (yes, the chestnut made popular by Doris Day) is played straight, but remains ominous, while the 1960s one-hit “Love (Can Make You Happy)” seems faithful enough until you realize that the drum line comes from a typewriter. “She-Voices” seems downright cruel, as Tucker loops and repeats recognizable voices and phrases into absurdist textures. A casual “oooh” near the end morphs from part of a sentence to a near-orgasmic utterance, bad luck for the girl who came within range of Tucker’s mic. Still, as weird and offputting as In the Sack can be, you’ve got to give credit to the man who wrote “Everywhere with Sally”. Crazy beautiful is still beautiful.

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