Kim Salmon & The Surrealists
Grand Unifying Theory
On new album 'Grand Unifying Theory' – his first with The Surrealists in more than a decade – Kim Salmon proves that he still has that surreal feel, writes RENÉ SCHAEFER.
More than most musicians of his generation, Kim Salmon feels comfortable revisiting his own considerable legacy. He can allow himself to revive such milestones as The Scientists’ juvenilia classic ‘Pissed On Another Planet’ or The Surrealists’ ‘Hit Me With The Surreal Feel’ in live performances, because rather than being exercises in nostalgia, these explorations of earlier works keep informing his current creative output. Thus, on Salmon’s latest opus under the Surrealists’ moniker, he picks up on several aspects of his musical history to develop these germs of ideas more fully. Much like The Scientists’ Human Jukebox and The Surrealists’ first three albums, Grand Unifying Theory presents itself in the manner of a collage of different styles and ideas.
Numbers like ‘Turn Turn’ and ‘Order Of Things’ are examples of the bare-boned minimalism that was The Surrealists’ trademark before they got seduced by grunge rock on Sin Factory. ‘RQ1’ and ‘Predate’, on the other hand, delve back into Salmon’s earliest infatuations with ’70s glam rock and Detroit-style punk. Rather than recycling the infantile themes associated with these styles of music though, Salmon couples his flat-out rockers with acerbic lyrics, most notably on ‘Childhood Living’. Here he presents a sharp critique of the hedonism and arrested development usually associated with the rock’n’roll lifestyle. In this worldview “bullshit is the only true way forward”.
“Numbers like ‘Turn Turn’ and ‘Order Of Things’ are examples of the bare-boned minimalism that was The Surrealists’ trademark before they got seduced by grunge rock on 'Sin Factory'.”
While the majority of songs are brief blasts of venomous energy, cynicism and ironic observation, the centerpiece of the album is the 25-minute, two-part instrumental ‘Grand Unifying Theory’. Rather than forming a link to the past, here Salmon, drummer Phil Collings and bassist Stu Thomas venture into previously unexplored territory with a masterful piece of group improvisation.
What unfolds from the introductory buzz of distortion, bears some resemblance to the Krautrock freak-outs of prime-era Can. This is mainly due to the muscular insistence of the rhythm section. The “kosmik” slop that marred a lot of ’70s Krautrock, and made it easy to dismiss as a hangover of the psychedelic era, is thankfully missing. The production is crisp and spacious, rather than spacey. The way that Salmon allows the drums and bass to take centre stage for extended periods of time brings to mind a great jazz composition such as John Coltrane’s ‘Olé’, itself marking the transition from the post-bop era to free jazz.
Despite its length, the track never becomes self-indulgent, maintaining its tension through sparseness. For long stretches of time a sustained synth-string note hovers underneath the rhythm like a suspense-builder from a Bernard Herrmann score. When Salmon brings in the guitar, it’s restrained, but redolent with the primal aggression of the late Ron Asheton. It’s intensely gratifying to hear him cut loose from the constraints of song structure and simply have fun.
Returning from outer space on ‘Pathological’, Salmon sounds like an evil Dave Graney, as he berates imaginary adversaries about his own artistic superiority, tongue firmly planted in cheek. Via the aforementioned excursion to the Detroit badlands, the album concludes on yet another departure, as the restless, manic rhythm and abstracted guitar solos of ‘Kneel Down At The Altar Of Pop’ bring to mind Greg Ginn’s contributions to Black Flag.
Confused yet? Well, as Sonic Youth put it so succinctly, “confusion is sex”. Kim Salmon knows this and on Grand Unifying Theory he keeps fucking with listeners in his own inimitable fashion. This is an artist defined by his very restlessness, his willingness to both embrace and redefine his own legacy and keep presenting us with work that is as original as it is commercially unviable.
Grand Unifying Theory is out March 19 through Low Transit Industries.