Tuesday, 8 July 2008

SUPERSISTER: Dona Nobis Pacem


Strange, or not, how I've recently been veering back to the curvatures of Canterbury Rock, the coils of organ awaiting encasement in fuzz bass with flyswatter drumming and the occasional winsome vocal. It all seems agreeably perpendicular and light with the continued (if seldom fulfilled; tension band wiring was the glue that held Canterbury Rock together) promise of explosions. Supersister were Canterbury Rock as viewed through a North Sea telescope; they were from the Hague, teenagers or thereabouts (but mostly, or totally, child prodigies, particularly keyboard man Robert-Jan Stips), and their non-Kentness created an airvent of new inspiration down which new breaths of retrospective influence could flow, not that they've been revived as such until very recently.


Present From Nancy, their debut album, is from 1970, and a remarkable 47 minutes' worth of homework; it essentially takes its lead from Wyatt-led song form Soft Machine, yet although there are "songs," they are liable to swerve into fuzzier, extended waters, hence "Memories Are New," a generation ahead of Stereolab, begins by swooning over spent tropes ("Forever try to live in the past" as bassist/singer Rob Van Eck sighs) before driving into 11/8 cataclysms, Stips thrashing his organ as much like a guitar as he can get away with, always stepping halfway over the tonality brink, or fussing at one wah-wah note until it curls up into a soup, balanced out by the contemplative flute of the late Sacha Van Geest, until finally organ and flute unite for a slow ice lake dance of Lytton Strachey damaged elegance. They tried singles as well; the first, "She Was Naked," essentially is the album in precis (with the calamitously brilliant line "Reveal philosophies like instant pudding"), cantering from moody musing to near-freeform detonations (and it still nearly made the Dutch top ten).


But "Dona Nobis Pacem" is perhaps the record's simplest track as well as its deepest. A semi-solemn Gregorian procedural (also bearing hints of Beaver and Krause's Gandharva in places), it steps along in ominously beautiful manner, a pacing four-note bass line providing the margin for flute and keyboards to breathe in, and out, and slower, and more regularly; a huge hug of grace to conclude the album's scattering adventures, and then, after seven or eight minutes, the tempo gradually quickens and the pitch systematically heightens as though the musicians are negotiating their way across the narrowest of drawbridges to reach a pinched, nearly airless apex. As the journey converges Stips abruptly (but logically) converts into a bouncy Blackpool Tower Ballroom/Organist Entertains melody (fooled you! Or have we?) but then persists with his extended, terminal, deep, key-ambiguous sustenato; after one final, minute scatter for seeds, a giant, stereophonic gong crash wakes us all up. Custard pie as salvation?

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