Saturday, May 23, 2009

Heavenly Ten Stems - China Town

(Amarillo, 1994)

Since so many of the higher-profile groups affiliated with Amarillo released ugly music (usually with a confrontational comedy element propelling it), it’s easy to miss the fact that there were a lot of incredible musicians in the label’s orbit. The Heavenly Ten Stems, who put out just this single and a track on the Gan’t Boar Like an Eabla… sampler, was an ambitious group dedicated to performing Asian soundtrack music, an effort that might seem like a joke given that the members were weirdo-noise-artsters (Caroliner, Thinking Fellers Union Local 282, Zip Code Revue, etc.), but the end result is a fun, faithful – loving even – recreation of the source material. You’ve got trombone, violin, banjo, Cantonese (?) lyrics, and incredibly solid playing all around on these non-simple arrangements, which is especially impressive given that both songs are from a live performance. I like the Chinese hoedown feel of “China Town,” with its clip-cloppy percussion and sighing chorus, but I prefer the driving, surf-influenced “Jan Pehechan Ho,” which has the rockin’-est trombone I’ve ever heard, not to mention some dual vocals that are spat forth with nifty aggression. And, again: these songs are being played live. Amazing! Unfortunately, the Heavenly Ten Stems didn’t stick around too long, thanks to some phony-baloney controversy that was seemingly generated by a gaggle of San Franciscans – including Kathleen Hanna – with too much time on their hands. Intrigued? Good! Well, band-member Brandan Kearney tells that bizarre tale in his interview with Mark Prindle, and it’s quite an interesting read. SO GO READ IT.

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