October 14, 2013

Review: The Superman Revenge Squad Band | There Is Nothing More Frightening Than The Passing Of Time

Superlatives are nothing new when it comes to our coverage of Ben Parker and his music. Here we compared Mr. Parker favorably to Morrissey and Kurt Cobain, and here we counseled musicians to give up because the Croydon, England-based Parker operates at such a high level it makes the majority of other music pointless. Indeed, Parker's elevated songcraft, and particularly its focus and intensity, continues to surprise us with each successive release (only slightly more than we remain surprised at his relative lack of notoriety). That said, the first superlative that comes to mind when considering Parker's latest musical outing is rather absurd, although we think he would find it funny: There Is Nothing More Frightening Than The Passing Of Time, released today by London's fine small indie Audio Antihero, is the best album you will hear this year by a band that technically doesn't exist.

That's because The Superman Revenge Squad Band -- an augmented, ensemble version of Parker's long-time solo/duo unit Superman Revenge Squad -- isn't a going concern, but rather a group commissioned for a couple of (increasingly rare) live dates. And while the Band's new, eight-song collection presents only a few new compositions, it does so in thrilling, understated group arrangements of those as well as certain finer tracks from the SRS repertoire. While the spare and stark, OG Superman Revenge Squad's music is routinely flawless, the new iterations are transformative, enhancing what could be likened to a black-and-white experience so that it has become something vibrantly colorful. All of the recordings are both splendid in their more fulsome execution, and revelatory in much the same (curious) way as Bonnie "Prince" Billy's 2004 collection Greatest Palace Music. Opener "Lately I've Found Myself Regressing" and the classic self-empowerment/self-negating anthem "I'm Gonna Go To Bed And When I Wake Up I'm Gonna Be Someone Else" absolutely swing, driven by drummer (and brother) Adam Parker's virtuosic time-keeping, which complements perfectly the torrent of lyrics that tumble from Ben's mouth as soon as his lips part. Subtle touches of slide guitar, minimal cymbal accents, and piano add significant dimension to the brooding title track to the 2009 long-player We're Here For Duration... We Hope. There are still some spare numbers, such as the acoustic ballad "Paulie In Rocky Three," and they are still quite affecting. And the lyrical brilliance remains as well (Parker memorably explains in the opening verse to "Flavor Flav" that "...if you leave me we'd look like Public Enemy without Flavor Flav, it'll be functional, and records will still sell after all, Chuck D is still the main man, we'll get through this somehow, but I don't think I'd want to fight the power without you by my side..."). But the clattering rhythms and cool drone of saxophone and accordion that spur the new version of "A Funny Thing You Said," for example, feel just as natural and almost conventional, or at least a Frankenstein-ed pastiche of conventionality.

Aside from the brilliant, biting lyrics and intense, minimalist guitar-playing, the most interesting thing about Parker and the music he has made with Superman Revenge Squad, its legendary and volatile pre-cursor project Nosferatu D2 and even the band that preceded that, Tempertwig, is the steady reductive refinement of his music. As Parker worked and re-worked his sound over the past decade, he steadily reduced personnel and tightened instrumentation. The end result stripped brother Adam's drumming and electrical current from Nosferatu D2 to reveal Superman Revenge Squad, comprised solely of Parker's voice accompanied by acoustic guitar, and representing the hardest, sparest kernel of his aesthetic. While more recently the Squad has added a cello here, and a live date with a drummer there, this set presents the most lush, full and calm versions of Parker's music to date. And yet There Is Nothing More Frightening Than The Passing Of Time is a surprising destination for Parker's music. Nothing underscores this more than the use of smooth saxophone playing and buoyant accordion, which completely transform these songs from dark and dour into something wry and substantially lighter in tone. And while Parker may look upon the capital-B Band as an interesting, infrequent outlet for his music, it is certainly a very successful experiment indeed, and one well worth revisiting. Buy There Is Nothing More Frightening Than The Passing Of Time from Audio Antihero via Bandcamp right here. The full album is streaming via the embed below.

Superman Revenge Squad: Internets | Facebook

Previous Superman Revenge Squad coverage:
Today's Hotness: The Superman Revenge Squad Band
Nosferatu D2 Legacy Revisited, Remastered Recording Of Final Show Now Available From Audio Antihero
YouTube Rodeo: Superman Revenge Squad's "Dead Crow Blues"
Review: Nosferatu D2 | We're Gonna Walk Around This City With Our Headphones On To Block Out The Noise
Out: Superman Revenge Squad's "We're Here For Duration... We Hope!"
A Dish Best Served Cold: The Clicky Clicky Interview With Ben Parker
Logorrhea, Pathos and Superman Revenge Squad
Every Band I've Ever Loved Has Let Me Down Eventually

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