Renaldo and the Loaf - Songs For Swinging Larvae

Renaldo and the Loaf
Songs For Swinging Larvae

Released 1981 on Ralph
Reviewed by Lord Lucan, 02/10/2004ce

The obvious needs to be stated first: Renaldo And The Loaf are The Residents' second cousins. Although their native coastal Portsmouth could hardly be called the UK equivalent of The Residents', er... residence of San Francisco they are undeniably spiritually linked in sheer weirdness and warpedness. The association goes beyond aesthetic similarities, as Renaldo and the Loaf came to the attention of The Residents when they presented them with a demo tape which so impressed the four eyeballs that they signed them to their label Ralph Records to release this, their first album. An excellent, pretty disturbing film was also made to accompany an edited suite of music from the album, the link between the two groups being so strong that it appears on The Residents' own 'Icky Flicks' DVD.

With connections like that you should be able to imagine the kind of music this deranged duo make. However, there is a definite British slant to the residential sound in all their albums. The strange, warbly falsetto voices of The Residents are the chosen vocal style, but musically there are references to all sorts of peculiarly British musical forms lurking within. Although it is tempting to hear synthesis in this album, the cover states unequivocally: 'All transformations realized without the use of synthesisers or juvenile hormone'. Renaldo plays guitar, mandolin, bouzouki, drums, flocdrum, glockenspiel, bamboo, diverse percussives, Ted's metal comb, loop and voice, whilst Ted The Loaf plays guitar, clarinet, loops, scalpel wielding, prepared guitar, hacksaw blade, bass and percussion. This list doesn't get across just how strangely transformed each instrumental sound is however, and the mention of tape loops and scalpels gives a clue to the manipulations which modern ears would assume were created using samplers.

The album opens with 'Lime Jelly Grass' (one of the tracks used in the film). Voices of high-pitched derangement throw manipulated syllables of nonsense backwards and forwards, then a perverse fuzz bass line lopes along as splintered pieces of musique concrete momentarily jump in. An out-of-tune bouzouki comes in with a perverted nursery rhyme line, and military snare and backwards vocalisations puncuate that bass line. 'A Medical Man' bursts in with amphetamine speed and a twisted warbling, very silly vocal suggesting Dr. Benway's rusty scalpels and disastrous drug-fuelled surgical procedures as untuned percussion flys around. It makes Devo sound like U2. But blink and you've missed it, only to be lulled by the opening chimes and oceanic clarinet of 'Bali Whine'. The calm is short-lived as sped-up glockenspiel-like chimes and percussion alluding to gamelan underlay clarinet and vocal sweeps. Tape manipulations warp the whole thing back into the intro backwards masked. 'Kimbolton Gnome Song' is a more deranged take on Napoleon XIV's 'They're Coming To Take Me Away Ha Ha', with out of tune guitar, military snare, handclaps and those mad(dening) vocals again. 'Frass' is several furry animals who've escaped from grooving with Roger Waters's pict, then 'H2O (Going Under)' crashes in with a cavernous mediaeval fanfare loop over delay-drenched vocals, and a backwards cymbal. 'B.P.M.' is an exercise in tape loops, with a simple transistor radio speaker vocal over the top, coming on like something from This Heat's first album gassed with helium. The twisted nursery-rhyme quality of it is one of Renaldo and the Loaf's signature sounds. 'Spratts Medium' (also used in the film made with The Residents), is another loop which has silly but spiky vocals and car horn clarinets deranging all over it. 'Honest Joe's Indian Gets the Goat On the Way to the Cowboys' Conga' ends the first side with a multi-movement spaghetti western as seen through a mescaline kaleidoscope, complete with indian war whoop, clarinet derangements and neighing horse loop. The album side ends with a lock groove loop of the words 'Boom! Boom! Crash! Crash!'

This loop opens side two as 'Ow! Stew the Red Shoe' brings us into the most Residential territory so far with strangeness which is beyond words. Clarinet, drums and percussion loops made from what sounds like tearing paper give way to all manner of backwards masking and twisted lyrical whimsy. 'Bustle the Burgoo' sounds positively conventional in comparison. It's not of course, as it's a loping oddly tuned clarinet and guitar outing which sounds like a run through for the excellent 'A Critical Dance' on the follow-up album 'Arabic Yodelling'*, and Hawaiian guitar chimes against maracas. 'Is Guava A Donut?' has a groovy, funking bass line and a percussion loop, punctuated by a tearing sound and a spoken conversation worthy of an Ionesco play:

BOY: Is Dover a seaport?
MAN: Sure it's a seaport.
BOY: Has Grover a passport?
MAN: I hope so!
BOY: Do gophers eat peanuts?
MAN: I'm not sure!
BOY: Is guava a donut?
MAN: What?
BOY: What! What, you say! You know, if I had a mind I could get quite mad, but I bite my bottom lip and persevere, a lad needs to know, y'know, y'know, y'know.
BOY: Is Ghana a blood sport?
MAN: Don't be ridiculous!
BOY: You know, I still have questions.

Musically it veers all over the place with instruments jumping in and out and parts of it sounding like someone is leaning on the tape reel as it plays. 'A Sob Story' begins with tape manipulations of what sounds like a musical box, a vocal loop, sobbing sounds, dog-whistle electronics and a vocal line which sounds like an hommage to Robert Wyatt's 'Alifie', and indeed the song is about someone who is wheelchair bound. 'Hats off Gentlemen' begins with a piano loop which is overlayed with other loops, sounding like Steve Reich's 'Different Trains'. 'Renaldo's Trip to Venice' is a quick bombardment of sounds and noises which gives way to 'Ted's Reverie' which closes the album with a building freakout of percussives, clarinet and guitar as we're sucked into the absurd nature of the reverie. This all suddenly disappears down the plughole of that strange backwards masked vocalise which opened the album.

Fantastic weirdness and oddness which puts a peculiarly British slant on The Residents' trademark sound. The frequent whimsy and twisted, sinister undertow combine to create an album of fascinating, warped oddness. Nothing outstays its welcome, and in fact the sheer pace of much of the material and sardine-packed ideas mean several listenings are needed for it all to sink in. The scalpel work and tape manipulation is equal to and evocative of the best of Faust's and Holger Czukay's work. In many ways it is a shame Renaldo and the Loaf are destined to stand in the shadow of their heroes The Residents, as they are definitely as good as them and deserve much more recognition for their own rich, weird brew. If The Residents are, as they claim, as strange as supper, then Renaldo and the Loaf are as strange as teatime.


* 'Arabic Yodelling', the follow up album on Ralph Records, is possibly even better than '...Swinging Larvae', with an expanded sound pallette (they do use an electronic keyboard this time) and more accessibility (though equally uncompromising), and it contains the most perfectly strange pop song never to top the charts in the excellent and hilarious 'A Critical Dance'. Well, you can't go wrong with a chorus of 'Your leg's too long / Your skull's too strong / Suppose your nose is wrong / Your eyes are blue / Your ears are too / Your mouth is oozing glue.'
The third album, 'The Elbow Is Taboo' initally disappointed me with its more polished sheen, though having listened to it again in the course of writing this review I have to say it is nowhere near as dissatisfying as I remembered and has much to recommend it.

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