Secret Chiefs 3 has been my favorite band probably since the release of their third album, Book M. Headed by former Mr. Bungle and Faith No More guitarist and composer Trey Spruance, SC3 started as what felt like a Bungle side project, but has evolved into something much bigger and better: a running, kitchen sync project combining everything from surf music to death metal to techno to ambient noise to new wave, much of it with a distinct Middle Eastern feel. To date, they’re the only band I’ve ever liked whose music hasn’t at some point fallen off — if anything, they’ve gotten consistently better with each album. No shark-jumping from these guys, and if this new release is any indication, there’s nary a shark in sight.
Le Mani Destre Recise Degli Ultimi Uomini is the first (and long, long awaited) post-Book of Horizons release to feature one of the seven “satellite bands” introduced in that release. (Since then, there’s been Book of Angels 9 – Xaphan, but it’s kind of a separate project — a brilliant performance of all John Zorn compositions, still awesome SC3, but not really an extension of the Book of Horizons concepts.)
I have to admit, I wasn’t that big on the idea of “sub-bands” that focused on aspects of SC3’s oeuvre — part of my love of the band comes from the sheer inclusiveness of influences and styles, and breaking that down into more simplified components seems contrary to the spirit of the enterprise. But so far I’m onboard, for this first “Traditionalists” release is still very true to the feel and spirit of all things Secret Chiefs. The concept is a brilliant goof: it’s a theme album of imaginary soundtrack music to a 1970s Italian horror movie that doesn’t exist*. It probably says something about the breadth of my film geekery that I can totally picture this movie: slightly cheesy, low-budget, badly dubbed, featuring attractive women in dangerous, creepy situations, all kind of fuzzily plotted and vaguely weird, unsettling in a darkly comic kind of way. Imagine Lalo Schifrin scoring a David Lynch film, if Lynch had been making films in Romania in 1975 — with a dash of Bernard Herrman here, a sprinkle of Rosemary’s Baby there, with the occasional burst of overseas soft porn soundtrack. Yes, this is the “Traditionalists” sub-band, but don’t let the name fool you. There’s a whole diversity of music on display, dark to be sure, but some of it beautiful and eerie, much of it unsettling, and a great deal of it funny and surprising.
My favorite tracks, after several listens at any rate, are the outrageous Final Fantasy VII-ish creep-funk of “Agenda 21”; “RFID Slavedriver,” a disco-electronica track veering into Rocky Horror shlock science fiction atmosphere; and “Zombievision,” an infectious, low-key beat. I suspect I took to these tracks because they’re among the more immediately accesible and catchy; ultimately, though, I don’t think it’s that “excerptable” an album. It’s best listened to as the concept album it is, a full rock-orchestra piece, so that its conceptual continuity — themes appearing, then re-appearing in new ways — can be appreciated.
The verdict: this is another awesome Secret Chiefs 3 album, definitely its own beast, another twanked gene in their evolution. I hope it doesn’t take another two or three years waiting for the next one!
* Interestingly, my imaginary cousin “Anelie East” is one of the stars, according to the mock movie poster!