By Steve Weinstein
By Bryan Bierman
By Lindsey Rhoades
By Chaz Kangas
By Ben Westhoff and Sarah Purkrabek
By Jena Ardell
By Jesse Sendejas Jr.
By Katherine Turman
It's that sound, that promise (cultural workers of the world, um, unite), which the New Jersey band Suran Song in Stag seek to reincarnate. Their valiant, funny, and curiously poignant Cowboys and Indians is a two-disc, 18-tune, 65-minute album that not only includes taut, faithful remakes of Entertainment!'s "I Found That Essence Rare" and "Natural's Not in It," but offers a virtual cover version of that album's Situationist-inspired, Cowboy-duping-Injun sleeve art itself. Currently a gang of three (besides vocalist-conceptualist Suran Songthe only grrrl among band boys, hence the rather unfortunate monikerthere's co-conspirator/bassist-guitarist William Weis and drummer Brad Yablonsky), the group has impeccable and wittily inclusive modern-rock references. They also take a ballsy (albeit suicidal) flying fuck at the Pretenders' untouchable "Tattooed Love Boys," rescue "My Mother the War" from the genteel dustbin of 10,000 Maniacs, and revamp Duran Duran's "Friends of Mine" as a Rocky Horror bash for everyone's favorite closet case ("Marshall Mathers is coming out"break out the insertable party favors!). Their own "Overman" lifts a riff from Heart's Jurassic-rock standard "Barracuda" and adds an Oscar-bait sample from Gandhia marriage of contradictions made in Brechtian heaven.
The SSIS Web site, where Cowboys and Indians along with the embryonic Shiny Objects and the bare-bones duo Pure Agitator can be conveniently purchasedfeatures a diagram of their portable "Agit-Stage," a Constructivist-inspired, generator-powered trailer for bringing their "guerrilla shows" to the masses (propaganda-art travels by U-Haul: downscale shades of Medvedkin's Kino-Train). In performance, Song has been known to mount stilts, but more often, she uses her body as a slide-show screen for projected images. On Cowboys and Indians, her voice performs a similar function. At once fiercely engaged and disembodied, she's a proper idealist conducting a séance for the ghosts of radical Christmases past. "How do you feel at the end of the day?" she sings in a sentimental old anthem of the Jam's. "Just like you walked over your own grave." Listening to the conviction she brings to the Lords of the New Church's sinister, hokey, and still irresistible "Open Your Eyes," you can't help realizing how different the world is now from thenthat 1982's left-wing laundry list in 2001 comes off like nothing so much as Timothy McVeigh's Top 10 Rationaleswithout being entirely sure where sincerity leaves off and ye olde world-historic irony begins. (The kazoo horn section is a nice touch either way.)
As Suran Song in Stag's good fight demands to be measured against the Gang of Four's paradoxical moment, the one thing that exceeds their grasp is a sense of the social abyssthe pure, nihilist unreason driving capitalism and revolutionary fantasies alike. Though by the second disc of Cowboys and Indians, composed mostly of the band's own material, Song herself begins to find an insinuating voice that hints at the freedoms and enigmas previously found by Lora Logic, the Au Pairs' Lesley Woods, and Romeo Void's Debora Iyall. Closing out with the more-subtle-than-its-title "Brainwash Soda/Guerrilla Pop" and "Velvet Crush," in which mundane details are rendered as ethereal dreamscapes and vice versa, the band steps out of the long shadow of history and takes a baby step into the unknown.
Cruel Music, cruelmusic.com.
Suran Song in Stag play Arlene Grocery July 6.