Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

Universal Panzies - Transcendental Floss

Universal Panzies
Transcendental Floss


Released 1998 on Head Heritage
Reviewed by Rust Phimister, 05/01/2009ce


Perhaps one of the weirdest recent bands are the Universal Panzies, a Newcastle-based group of neo-seers orbiting around the mesmeric personality of their leader, Christophe F, who, as far as I can gather, is a sort of wild, unpredictable underground rock guru with a penchant for cross-dressing and Krautrock (!).

Little more is known of Christophe F, other than the fact that he seems determined never to move away from his familiar North-East stomping ground, and that he has been plagued by ill health for a while, meaning he has had to toil away in almost complete obscurity. Yet, if there is one thing Transcendental Floss demonstrates, is that the man is as close as we have come to a real guitar hero in the last two decades. Fuck Mark Knopfler and his sedate, boring noodling - Christophe F is the real deal!

Take the insane opener, 'Krautrock-lovesong/Hallowedundgallowed'. It starts as a dull dirge, a few lines of feedback with F muttering mutely over the top, like a stoned-out Thurston Moore (or was it Kim Gordon) at the beginning of Sonic Youth's Daydream Nation. But then the rythm really kicks in, the kind of monolithic pounding of the tom toms and descending bass lines that characterised the best of Amon Duul II circa Yeti or Ash Ra Tempel at their peak. It's slow, the lyrics are unintelligible, the groove is insistent to the point of being numbing, and over it all, Christophe F flies on his guitar like few others! It could almost be "post-rock" (think Explosions in the Sky, only less restrained), but weirder, wilder and more fun by a country mile.

But, here's the killer: about half-way through, the song gets even better! The drummer and bassist kick into a superb motorik groove, easily as good as any Neu! or Harmonia ever managed, giving F full reign to rip out a continuous, almost-hypnotic solo that goes on for the best part of ten minutes. This is the kind of rock I thought we'd never hear in recent years: the song literally flails, seeming to careen along of its own accord, all pummelling toms, disjointed keyboard effects and forever that uncontrollable, unrelenting guitar. You can hear the references, yet somehow it still sounds fresh and new, as F puts his entire heart, soul and being into his guitar, turning the whole album, an ode to love lost, I should specify, into a rock 'n' roll requiem of sorts, a haunting serenade sung by that ripped-up axe and F's dull, plaintive voice.

Never is this more potent (except on the first track!) than on 'Star-bard and grounded', which adds wailing sax to the sumptuous mix. F sings more here, but mostly he still lets his guitar do the talking as his acolytes continue to bash out a relentless beat that speeds up or slows down as the mood takes them, yet never do they falter, never do they stumble. F just keeps thrashing out chord after chord, solo after solo, until you are left shuddering and shaking in its wake. It's music you can shake your arse to, music you can head-bang to, music you can meditate to, music you can trip to. It's krautrock, but filtered through metal, funk, trance, free-form and electronica. It's stunning, possessing more heart and soul than anything that the infinitely more popular Radioheads and Coldplays of this world were bashing out at the time.

This is real music. Real because it is made by passionate people doing it for their muse, not for sales or profile-boosting. Real because it is immediate, instinctive, heartfelt. I defy you to listen the blaring sax/guitar freeform funk freakout of 'Star-bard and grounded' and not be stunned at the sheer power and beauty these artist-druids have managed to meld with such class and energy.


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