July 1997 – album reviews – Sadhappy’s ‘Good Day Bad Dream’ (“a contemporary progressive group that’s unafraid to mingle technique, horror, street-smarts and a mordant, lethal wit”)

4 Jul

Sadhappy: 'Good Day Bad Dream'

Sadhappy: ‘Good Day Bad Dream’

The voice on the telephone chuckles. “Sure, it all made sense to me. You just burn it out, past the pain. / Sure it’s all toxin: you just work it out of your system.” Somewhere between a Berklee College education, an Olympia punk statement and the world of woodshed ravings you’ll find this – rolling down a quiet highway like a fatal fog-wall.

For their fourth album, the alliance of drummer/sample mangler Evan Schiller and bassist/spoken-word freak Paul Hinklin has convulsed yet again to install a new Sadhappy lineup. Out goes eccentric Critters Buggin/Tuatara sax player Skerik. In comes Michael Manring, ’90s bass guitar genius, for a very different approach to the power trio. Two basses might sound like a recipe for disaster – ‘Jazz Odyssey’ doubled up, or cheesy slap-funk duels. Sadhappy get around this by realising the implicit power in the timbre of the bass guitar: the added resonance, the volcanic rumble it’s impossible to ignore, the sheer booty-shaking body. And they go for it full-bloodedly. In the resulting low-end carnage, saxes and guitars are not missed.


 
A lot of this is to do with Manring, who’s rivalled only by Tony Levin, Victor Wooten and Doug Wimbish as a contemporary redefiner of bass guitar. Not content with just a jaw-droppingly dextrous technique (whether grooving fingerstyle, slapping, tapping, or picking), he’s as liable to mutate melodies by abrading them with an EBow and/or in-flight retuning. And, as you’d expect, ‘Good Day Bad Dream’ is a treasure box of bass sounds – the levitational noises on Lost in Bass; the chainsaw punk rumble on Maintenance Pissed and Chronic Subsonic Tonic; the multitracked interplay of worming harmonics, chunky strums, and wolf-wails on The Kitchen Sink. But it’s no mere technique-fest.


 
Yes, for the most part it’s instrumental. And at its most basic (Home Lobotomy Kit, Honeymoon Deathbed) it tugs us through a darker edged and more credible fusion revamp via Hinklin’s brutally precise twanging, growling basslines, Schiller’s clattering, tight as a mantrap drums, and Manring’s distorted, storming, articulate leads. And there’s a strong element of the roaring hybrid of thrash, fusion and left field virtuosics that fuelled Manring’s last album ‘Thonk’, recorded as an attempt to escape his inconvenient reputation as a jazz-leaning New Age muso. But in meeting the streetwise intelligence of Schiller’s drumming and Hinklin’s sardonic New Music/punk’n’sarcasm influences, Manring’s restless and complex musicality has completed its journey away from the New Age racks.


 
‘Good Day Bad Dream’ emerges from this as an album blending multiple strands of modern electric music with surprising success. It’s an overlapping low end approach of eerie smoggy textures, wrapping up art punk, weird funk, jazz, dark ambience, sampledelia, progressive rock, sound massage, and a dash of psychological sewage. The trio nod to Mingus, the smouldering dark star of modern jazz, with a strutting and dextrous cover of his sarcastic II b.s. With the fifteen minutes of deathly textures and world-swallowing bass oceanics on The Death of Webern, they’ve got that scary isolationist-ambient game sown up too.


 
Evan Schiller’s light touch throughout ensures that the band are never bogged down. Within The Kitchen Sink’s light-fingered ostinatos, King Crimson riff choirs and E bow calls, his precise percussion approach rings, swooshes, crashes and drops out to leave perilous canyons in the texture of the music. On SBD, he shines with an array of sparse metallic taps and lethally timed buzz-rolls under a lowering cloud of bass, a dark canopy of wails and murmurs through which Manring winds skeletal insect-trails of overdriven bass, twisting and skirling like cyborg bagpipes.
……………………………………..



 
But the key to Sadhappy’s success in reaching out beyond the fusion ghetto is Paul Hinklin’s acidic humour, which lurks somewhere in the triangle between Tom Waits, Frank Zappa and Bill Hicks. In the recurring, repulsive figure of Oscar (a forty-nine-year-old backwoods Beavis with a voice like a plastics bonfire), he gives Sadhappy their own all-American idiot guide, a lottery sweepstake winner with “money comin’ out of his ass” swaggering over a racket of bellowing grunge-garage art rock riffs. His new rich man’s horizons lead him only as far as the porn racks at the general store, or to the bar; a coarsened American Dreamer content to do nothing more than wallow in his own filth and boast about it (“Yeah, you gotta work for the rest of your life: I own the streets I piss in!”).



 
On False Information – a sort of post-Laswell take on a ‘Remain in Light’ groove, burrowing through post-rock and hip hop en route – Hinkler offers us a lighter look at the aches and absurdities of the modern human condition. “All the guilt, all the shames, all the blames, / all the payments that you pay for crimes you never even committed, / never even thought of – what’s up with that?”. Schiller’s pin-sharp sample-heavy beats jab and dodge like a lethal flyweight boxer as Hinklin’s sardonic voice chuckles at enlightenment: “You see past everything and you say, this is just me plus garbage. Hell, if I couldn’t see the garbage, then I would be the garbage. Thank God I can tell I’m not the garbage. “‘Scuse me, honey. I have to take myself out to the trash. What is truly me will come back to dinner. It’ll just be me minus garbage.””


 
Sometimes though, the humour goes darker. In the harsh fable of Hammering Man, the townsfolk turn out to watch the unveiling of a statue: “a testament to the nameless brave, to the unselfish, the holy slaves. The ones who gave their bodies and minds to the army, the ones that gave themselves to the might of the all powerful industrial machine. The ones that had made America strong, the ones that had made America beautiful. The ones that, through no fault of their own, had turned it into a wasteland.” Small wonder that the statue crumbles, toppling to pin the spectators to the earth.


 
In the brooding dusky groovescape of Oscar Gets Laid, we get to see a younger Oscar, callow and innocent, rubbing up for the first time against the world that’s going to corrupt him. Manring’s mixture of rattling ominous echoes and scritching, coppery industrial harmonics send a shiver down the spine, as Hinklin’s murmured vocals explore paranoia and fascination down the back alleyways of the mean streets – malevolent shadows, and the breath of heroin ghosting out of the skins of hookers. At last: a contemporary progressive group that’s unafraid to mingle technique, horror, street-smarts and a mordant, lethal wit.


 
It’s also one that’s firmly rooted in the present, soaking up the lessons of grunge, dance, and sampler culture, while still playing the arse off all comers. Even if ‘Good Day Bad Dream’ sometimes strains the limits of its excellence by being just a little too diffuse, too dependent on fusion fallback, Sadhappy move through their music with assurance, imagination, presence and a brutal vigour. And that’s an all too rare combination.

The smile on the face of a charming, constructive killer.

Sadhappy: ‘Good Day Bad Dream’
Periscope Recordings, PERISCOPE RECORDINGS CD04 (7 96873 00042 0)
CD/download album
Released: 2nd July 1997

Get it from: (2020 update) Original CD printed in a run of 1,000 – CD and download best obtained from Bandcamp.
Sadhappy online:
Homepage Bandcamp Last FM YouTube Vimeo
Google Play Spotify Amazon Music
 

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