Mermen
(Copyright © 1999 Piero Scaruffi | Legal restrictions - Termini d'uso )
Food For Other Fish , 7/10
Live At The Haunted House , 6/10
A Glorious Lethal Euphoria , 7.5/10
The Amazing California Health , 7/10
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The Mermen are an all-instrumental band from San Francisco whose sound harks back to surf music of the 1960s, but is altered by a blues-psychedelic neurosis a` la Neil Young and by devastating spasms a` la Jimi Hendrix, thanks to guitarist Jim Thomas' flights of imagination. Their first full-length album, Krill Slippin' (Kelptone, 1989), went by unnoticed, and for a few years the band was banished.

Food For Other Fish (Kelptone, 1994) marked the beginning of their mature phase. Thomas' vision had blossomed into something completely unknown, an odd association of surf music, country music, progressive-rock, hard-rock and psychedelic-rock. Thus the instrumental sound of the Mermen bridged several decades and several generations.
The album does not lack impressionistic vignettes such as Raglan, shows of dexterity such as Drift, and romantic fantasies such as Bondage Of The Sea (the kind of pieces that one expects on instrumental collections) but its artistic and philosophical core is elsewhere. The seven-minute epics Be My Noir embodies the spirit and the praxis of their art: atmospheric guitar, soothing melody, solemn pace, sudden bursts of energy, occasional discharge of noise, echoes of sunny landscapes, languid soliloquy and introverted self-analysis. The centerpiece of another seven-minute piece, The Silly Elephant Who Stomped To Tea, is a convoluted gallop through a landscape of cacti and hallucinations, surf music on speed. The melody of My Black Bag gets warped, deformed, distorted by a fury that belongs to hardcore. Honeybomb evokes honky-tonk music and syncopated square dances but also plunges into ugly hells of dissonance. To add substance to an already intense program, the album closes with two eight-minute pieces that are also the most pensive: Pull Of The Moon and Dancing In Her Sleep. The former is a slow, tortured dirge that flows towards controlled cacophony, while the latter is a somber, colloquial meditation.

Live At The Haunted House (Shittone, 1994) grants the leader maximum freedom to show off.

I Mermen sono un complesso strumentale di San Francisco il cui sound parte dalla musica surf degli anni '60, ma viene percorsa da una nevrosi blues-psichedelica alla Neil Young (a tratti persino Jimi Hendrix, grazie ai voli del chitarrista Jim Thomas). Il primo disco, Krill Slippin' (Kelptone, 1989), passo` inosservato e per qualche anno il gruppo fu relegato al circuito minore.

Food For Other Fish (Kelptone, 1994) metteva gia` in mostra i tre aspetti che vengono fusi dalla loro musica: la musica surf degli anni '60 (Drift), il progressive-rock degli anni '70 (The Silly Elephant Who Stomped To Tea) e l'hardcore degli anni '80 (My Black Bag).

Live At The Haunted House (Shittone, 1994) diede sfoggio soprattutto del virtuosismo del leader.

A Glorious Lethal Euphoria (Toadophile, 1995) finds a miraculous balance between revival and experimentation. The album opens with the lightning-speed instrumental dervish of Pulpin' Line, a tour de force of Thomas' guitar and Martyn Jones' drums, but the real delicacy is the intrepid rambling of The Drowning Man Knows His God and Under the Kou Tree, pieces that are much more complex than they sound, bordering on John Fahey's East/West fusion and on jazz-rock. Even conventional songs in the atmospheric "beach" style such as Scalp Salad, satanic rave-ups such as Lizards and frantic square dances such as Drub are riddled with countless detours and variations, that turn them into metaphysical psalms.
Three nine-minute jams tower over the rest: Obsession For Men, a soulful blues that Cream and Jimi Hendrix would have killed for; Between I and Thou, that deconstructs a catchy country theme; and And The Flowers They'll Bloom, imbued with the majesty of renaissance music.
There is more than style in Mermen's music: there is an almost fanatical kind of genius.

Their best record could be the EP Songs Of The Cows (Mesa, 1996), a fantastic case of improvised rock. The four-part suite Brain Wash continues their ambitious program.

The more concise instrumentals of The Amazing California Health And Happiness Road Show (Source, 2000) prove that Jim Thomas ranks among the most underrated guitarists of the 1990s. The majestic, symphonic, twang-drenched ode Unto The Resplendent, colored with oriental and Hawaian tones, and the fervent, throbbing and ornate White Trash Raga are mystical pieces that achieve a pathos halfway between the Velvet Underground, a surf band, John Fahey, Indian classical music and the Grateful Dead. The closing, 17-minute Burn opens with a 3-minute introduction of free-form noises (in the tradition of Albert Ayler and Indian raga) and then intones a solemn hymn. Layers of keyboards, percussions and guitar sounds build up a dense texture. After five minutes of electro-acoustic dissonance, the vision-prayer is crowned by a two-minute celestial "mantra" for guitar and keyboards.
On the lighter, "comic" side, the laid-back country & western romp of Emmylou Rides Clarence West And Then South gets progressively faster and harsher, and the frantic, supersonic gallop of Little Stinky Kitty distorts guitar chords in abominable ways.
The vocabulary of Thomas' metaphysical surf music is impressive. Walking The Peach is a western piece that resonates of cavalry charges and Indian war dances but also of zen meditation; while Mike's Lush Beehive erupts with the energy and rawness of Joe Satriani playing a Who's anthem. Thomas experiments with several styles (even dub and calypso) and never loses the thread of his mental journey, even though a few tracks wink at the new age and soft jazz audience. This kind of deconstruction of surf music had not been attempted since the Raybeats.

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