Sun City Girls were a much revered improvisational rock band from Arizona who featured guitarist Sir Richard Bishop. Torch of the Mystics was probably their most loved album. It was recorded in ‘88 and released on vinyl by Malora in ‘90 it was as mind blowing as it was influential. A CD was released on the Tupelo label in ‘93 but has long been out of print. Torch of the Mystics is an experimental psychedelic masterpiece and was even namechecked in the Stephen Malkmus and The Jicks song, Lariat.
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Sun City Girls were responsible for getting yours truly into the conceit of experimental music, while also keeping me at a sizeable distance for many, many years: for every classic piece of Weird they released there was something that made me want to wretch, or something I didn’t understand, or something with a scary title; for every ‘Dante’s Disneyland Inferno’ there was a ‘Horse Cock Phepner’, and how about a full length album with a twenty-two minute song thrown in at the start of an album as deterrent for the learning music fan? Fuck these guys is what I’m saying.
Formed of the unholy avant triforce of Alan Bishop, brother Sir Richard and honorary third sibling Charles Gocher, SCG spent a lot of time bringing together disparate sounds and songs, from the corners of noise, freeform jazz and vague mysticism; and that was when they were actually trying. It’s in ‘Torch of the Mystics’, their most famous moment, that they reached some semblance of clarity. Even then, though, this psychedelic masterpiece remains a mystery: it features covers of largely unknown songs, such as “The Shining Path”, while in other moments droning guitar figures spread out as a space for the band to wail, quite wordlessly, into the void. As far as their freeform goes, this is the most tethered SCG got, making songs with catchy melodies, inviting ideas and proper fun jams: “Esoteric of Abyssinia” loops around a chord sequence gleefully, like the band’s instruments are linking arms for the very first time.
This is one of few times that Sun City Girls almost became their own version of a pop band: tracks like “Space Prophet Dogon” are genuinely gorgeous, Gocher’s drums simmering into a lit-up guitar riff and a high-pitch wail. I now know they were being weird, provocative and stupid 99% of the time; sometimes, though, it sounds like they were writing love songs? Maybe.
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- Torch of the Mystics by Sun City Girls
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