Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

SEOMPI


Released 1970 on Akarma Reissue 1999
Reviewed by gogmagog, 17/12/2007ce


Isn’t it amazing, no matter how much music we all THINK we’ve listened to (especially in this age of the seen-it-all/'scene'-it-all instant internet expert); popular culture has a way of throwing us a curveball from time to time the size of Jupiter. Listening to SEOMPI had me rejoicing the same way - i.e. not blindly ‘phallicising’ the breadth of one’s knowledge but, conversely, celebrating the fact that there are still enough Unsung, undiscovered, gems out there to last us all a thousand life times.

Which brings me to these Texan underground stormtroopers: SEOMPI (it stands for Self Expression On Musically Potential Instruments). SELF EXPRESSION ON MUSICALLY POTENTIAL INSTRUMENTS!! What a concept! And, what potential! On first hearing this LP, I was immediately taken with the treacle-thick bass attack and minimalist, doom-laden, downer vibe. So in tune seemed these guys with today’s underground, doom-rock/metal milieu (nurtured by those uruk-hai over at Southern Lord et al.); that, hey, was it possible these guys had bounced back to 1970, just to make out they are 37 years ahead of their time. Perhaps I should explain.

In the beginning of 69’, Seompi’s leader Dave Williams, was incarcerated (Roky Erickson-stylee), for marijuana possession. Upon his release in 1970, Williams formed what could well have been the first dual-bass heavy rock set-ups (possibly before the rest of the rock fraternity had even considered the two-pronged, ‘twin-guitar lead’ that subsequently became popular around the time - I’m not sure.) But Two Bass and Drums? In 1969/70!!?? KUDOS!!! That said, the liner notes of Akarma’s otherwise brilliant 2LP round-up of Seompi’s output are misleading here; the two bass line-up does not appear anywhere on this 2LP (a real shame), as the LP is made up of early singles and rehearsals for which the band recruited Mitch Watkins on guitar to bolster the sound. Still, that sound retains a massive sub-bass-(over)driven fuzzy quality - huge globules of hairy-assed low-end reverberating all over these two slabs of granite-heavy bastard rock. The early singles were recorded twice, and this double-LP collects both sets of recordings on Side’s 1 & 3, filling the other sides with rehearsals that include longer tracks and a Hendrix cover.


“Summers Comin’ On Heavy” begins the LP. Briefly, the regular ictus of a reverberating guitar and a low industrial hum float in, giving way to an insistent propulsive two-chord drive. Huge buzz saw bass churns its way through this heavy-progressive tune, all stern Fripp-ian chord changes and driving insistency, amidst the primal guitar sludge. Seompi then deliver the line that could act as a maxim for most of today’s rock-n-roll alterns (let alone those of thirty years past): “WE ARE LIVING ON THE THRESHOLD OF THE FUTURE AND INTERPRETATION OF THE PAST!!’ There You GO! But what’s truly great about this band are its subtle little twists and nods to more progressive and interesting song-structures - a brief middle-section key change comes on like early Flash. Thus, there is a wonderful mix of complexity and balls-out underground angst and we’re still on the first track, which then twists off into a kind of sonic vacuum, twirling-infinite guitar patterns, before its abrupt end.

Slow monotonous guitar-groans start up “Slide, Slide” - picking up speed until Mitch Watkins guitar layers thick heavy sonic plasma all over the place - heavy as fuck on the fuzz. Some vague comparisons might be made here to T2 or Steamhammer, and, on the next track, Sabbath in particular. “Almost in a Hole,” could have sneaked into the country on a lorry labelled Vol. 4, claiming musical asylum the moment the count-in hit 4. Massively intricate yet heavy shards of pure sonic metal-energy collide in space, until an ugly troll-blues appears out of the melee, heralded by clatter-drums and a huge Ozzy-like vocal. The progressive side of Sabbath definitely, but note the date - 1970!!

But, truly, there is something for everyone here (as long as that everyone digs the vari-sounds of 1970 that is!) - and the next track “Lay on the Floor” reminds one off those early Dawn/Red Bus one-LP chance-acts, like Titus Groan or Pluto, - a poppy chorus given the overdrive treatment. Or maybe Scotland’s massively Unsung, The Human Beast, and their 1970 LP: ‘Volume One.’ Much as the singles impress, it is definitely the longer tracks on Side’s Two and Four which really shine. AWOL is the first - a six minute manifesto which begins: “I’ve been slaving for the US of A. Yeah!” - as Watkins’ guitar curls lovingly around the end of each vocal line - rising up and up - and the drummer lays down mini-Moon-rolls in response. The track then stops and a massively fuzzed bass turns the song around a sinister musical corner (similar in tone to Jannick Top’s achingly heavy bass thesis “KMX - B XII” off the ‘Inedits’ LP) before marching off: a stomping riff-o-saurus that lays waste to the surroundings. Wow….socio-cultural polemics never sounded so heavy, man!

The seven minute “A Question of Nobility” brings a jazzy vibe to Williams’ muse, with an early-Yes sound, or maybe Golden Earring-arguing over royalties with the Ram LP (see my HH review). This is the highlight of the LP for me - as the track has many moods. It slows to a Banks-like whisper - metallic curlicues of guitar and huge bass drones echoing underneath - a repeated pattern gaining in power - the affect is, again, of a swirling guitar mist swallowing up everything in its path, the wobbly bass undertow the only thing anchoring it to terra firma. Incredible!! Then comes the drugged-out version of “Voodoo Chile” - at least 2/3rds, possibly half, the speed of Jimi’s version, a growling bass coughing and spluttering throughout, as blitzed -out stratospheric guitar mayhem concludes the side.

Side 4’s “Do You Not Know” is possibly the only really weak link in the chain - perhaps the most modern sounding song (and all the worse for it), it even has a strange post-punk quality at times - especially the vocal melodies. Mercifully short, this leads into “Sticky Situation” - guitars chime away, before lurching into a maddeningly complex Fripp-ian strut - descending arpeggios and a kind of rhythmic skank - before erupting into a truly-whacked out guitar solo worthy of The Pink Fairies, for all its scrappy tone and discordant gusto. Despite the two-bass beginnings of this band, SEOMPI really are a guitarists dream. The skank returns for the vocal, muggy unclear murmurs chirrup away. God knows what this man has got attached to his guitar at this point, but it makes it sounds incredibly strange.

Overall, it’s a incredible piece of work, and today’s heavy underground fraternity will be delighted with this particular Akarma excavation - a label who are quickly replacing Kissing Spell as outright leaders in this singular kind of archaeo-cultural endeavour.


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