What are these guys on? The lead singer trips over his own rhymes all the time, spewing stories, asides and opinions in demented non-stop incantation, whilst guitars and keyboards riff and groove in sequences and patterns behind him. One moment we’re in Alphabet City, the next we’re having an flashback about a love affair as flashing blue lights surround the burger bar. If you don’t listen hard or read the lyrics it all goes horribly wrong: the nightmare chorus of Sea Slugs turns out to be the tamer, regretful She Shrugs, and the singer isn’t back in the shithouse but the stirrup (I never did like horses). Oh Zoe indeed, whoever she is. Some New York waif lost in Bristol I suspect, or an imaginary lover from an imaginary past. Meanwhile we get Black Box Warnings where conspiracy is rife and everyone and their friends gets a namecheck as the apocalypse arrives, the four horsemen following close behind the lies of Guiliana and a host of others to take a body count. No-one takes any responsibility, no-one admits to why there is blood on their hands or egg on their face. Guiliana’s New York is also the place for drug deals in the Lower East Side where Johnny toughs it out in the stairwells and dark corridors in a kind of demented Springsteen story without the romantic bullshit. If the cd opens with love supreme love supreme it turns out to be a reference to John Coltrane’s classic jazz trance album and not a declaration. Here Cupid’s bow keeps missing its target and the city’s occupants are mostly on a downer in the November rain. In fact only the dogwalkers and junkies are out, illuminated by pop garish billboards and the flashing lights of the dustbin lorry. Somewhere in the mix there is not only Coltrane but a minimalist prepared piano played with a full on rage so that it somehow sounds like The Ramones. There may be punk in the mix here but mostly it’s the drone and chimes and sonic addiction of the Velvet Underground, the sputtering dynamic rhythms of a city on red alert with its citizens only surviving because they are full of drugs and attitude. For much of the album the mood is visceral sweaty leather black, contrasted with the yellow line of the title, hazard or crime scene tape to stop us being involved, but by the album’s close the mood is blue, remembering hippy camp scruff and the daughter away in London, Joni Mitchell and Ravi Shankar on the record player, whilst the narrator deals with the ins and outs of immigration. There’s no let up, apart from Joni’s downer songs and Leonard Cohen’s laments, just an unused second ticket and a fading into loss and grief. So either Lou Reed and his merry men are alive and well in Bristol or there is the musical reincarnation of the spirit of rock and punk and attitude alive and well in the city. Or the Red Propellers are as haunted by their musical past as this album is haunting. Risk the sea slugs and side streets for the joy of electronic guitar oblivion and pulverising punk poetry held together with… well I’ve no idea. Liquid drums and gaff tape, moody keyboards, bits of string and narcotics, I assume. Cross the yellow line and feel the apocalyptic pain narcotic stain. It’ll do you good. At least, it hasn’t done me any harm. In fact I rather like it. You were there and then you were gone.
Johnny Sea Slug Brainstorm