The Comet Is Coming’s Sci-Fi Jazz and the Soft Pink Truth’s Cheeky Cover of Coil’s “The Anal Staircase”

The Comet Is Coming, “Code” (Impulse!)

It’s natural to mourn the demise of Sons of Kemet, the powerful London avant-jazz group led by saxophonist/clarinetist Shabaka Hutchings and who, by the way, just played KEXP’s 50th-anniversary party at Seattle Center. But the sadness dissipates once you realize that this busy musician theoretically has more time to devote to the Comet Is Coming—as well as to about a half-dozen other lower-profile projects.

Generally speaking, the Comet Is Coming embed more psychedelic, electronic sounds in their instrumental tracks than do Sons of Kemet, and their overall thrust skews more toward the cosmic end of the jazz and dance-music worlds. For TCIC, fusion is their natural habitat, but it’s not so much about showboating virtuosity à la much ’70s jazz fusion as finding fresh, hybridized modes with which to express a transcendent spirituality… and without the help of a vocalist.

Toward that end, they’ve been quite successful, including on their fourth and newest album, Hyper-Dimensional Expansion Beam (recorded at the deluxe, Peter Gabriel-founded Real World Studios, out September 23). The 11 tracks offer yet more proof that we’re in boom times for jazz, and Hutchings continues to be one of the major catalysts in helping the genre cross over to young folks who may be more immersed in hip-hop, rave music, and psych rock than the stuff that the legendary Impulse! Records (TCIC’s label) typically champions.

“Code” is Hyper-Dimensional Expansion Beam’s peak. It patrols its domain with militaristic vigilance, propelled by the pugilistic, industrial-rock beats of Max “Betamax” Hallett. On sax, Hutchings blows out his staunch, staccato fanfares that should rile crowds to rumble while keyboardist Dan “Danalog” Leavers lays down an indomitable, low-end riff. Soaring female backing vocals (probably sampled) lend this track an angelic and heroic sheen, adding the final touch to a piece that could score a sci-fi thriller’s climactic scene.

The Comet Is Coming perform Friday September 30 at the Crocodile.

The Soft Pink Truth, “The Anal Staircase” (Thrill Jockey)

The original 1986 version of “The Anal Staircase” by the occult British group Coil promenaded down the runway with stolid whipcrack beats, manically tintinnabulating bells, and panicky Psycho-soundtrack strings as John Balance growled, “The angels kiss our souls in bliss/Measure the extent of our descent/Down the anal staircase.” Bluntly put, this song advocates for the transcendent qualities of butt sex. Coil were led by Balance and ex-Throbbing Gristle member Peter “Sleazy” Christopherson, a gay couple who made transgressive music from 1984 to 2004, the year in which the former passed away.

Drew Daniel, the auteur of the mutant-house project the Soft Pink Truth, also performs in the band Matmos with his long-time partner M.C. Schmidt and has written a 33 1/3 book about Throbbing Gristle’s 20 Jazz Funk Greats. So it makes all kinds of sense that Daniel would take on one of Coil’s definitive works. This may be an homage to a queer hero and creative inspiration, but the Soft Pink Truth’s cover of “The Anal Staircase” forgoes straightforward reverence for clever reinvention and interpretation.

If you immerse yourself in the Soft Pink Truth’s back catalog, you can’t help noticing Daniel’s sly subversions of genre tropes, whether disco, punk, black metal, or IDM. The new four-track EP Was It Ever Real? (out now on CD and cassette) on which “The Anal Staircase” appears traverses familiar SPT territory; it evokes the nonconformist, vocal-centric microhouse and ambient styles that have tickled the high IQs of discerning listeners since the late ’90s. It’s SPT’s most focused release to date, privileging the pleasure principle above all else. Close listening reveals a wealth of psychedelic minutiae in the DNA of the Soft Pink Truth’s music—as is the case with Coil’s work.

The Soft Pink Truth’s version of “The Anal Staircase” replaces the original’s angsty undercurrents with a girthy bass line, more hedonistic, buoyant beats, and massed vocals that sound more celebratory than Balance’s defiant delivery. In the track’s second half, the sound becomes more distorted, and Tripp Trapp Trull’s sax, trombone, and trumpet add a riveting urgency, but Daniel still retains Coil’s flair for inserting intriguing sonic ectoplasm between the grooves. The Soft Pink Truth’s rendition could be construed as an aural evocation of the progress that queer folks have made over the last 36 years—and/or simply a thoughtful tribute to influential, transgressive musicians whose work should be much better known.

Was It Ever Real? is part of Thrill Jockey’s 30th anniversary special limited-edition series.

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