Mark Tucker / In the Sack - SBL-76061
Amongst connoisseurs of revelatory/off the map private press sides, the recordings of Mark Tucker have long provided a functional model of the genre at its most beautifully fucked. Tucker’s second album, 1983’s In the Sack, was an apocalyptic/dystopian concept album that centred on the American postal system and that sounded something like a cross between a teenage Van Dyke Parks and a slightly less disobedient Half Japanese. But his debut album, Batstew, released on his own Tetrapod Spools label in 1975, is widely regarded as his masterpiece. The whole concept for this fantastically unlikely recording seems to have been birthed via the conflation of a bunch of Tucker’s obsessions at the time, namely his car (which he referred to as ‘The Bat’) and his “She”, Eva Bataszew, an early girlfriend with whom Tucker had a relationship “riddled with paranormal phenomena”. The death of that relationship would later contribute to the deterioration of Tucker’s mental health and three bouts of hospitalisation for severe depression. The album was released in two runs of 100 copies each, including one personalised edition for Eva, where the title read Bataszew. “She never commented on it,” Tucker relates in the newly penned liner notes, “except to say that she played it for her cousin and he ‘didn’t get it’”. Tucker’s parents were similarly unresponsive. His father “never commented on any aspect of it but several years later, my stepmother asked me if I had written a song about a homosexual relationship, so apparently she had heard it. My mother, who had dreamed of me becoming a concert pianist—the next Rubinstein or Horowitz—hated Batstew in its entirety from the first minute to the last. She never wished to own a copy. After hearing the master tape of the proposed album, she told me ’You’re selling your craziness’. I replied, ‘So was Beethoven.’” Batstew draws on a number of sonic strategies, all of which are satisfyingly bent. The core of the material is based around recordings of his car, a 1964 Cadillac—ticking over, revving up, its engine dying—that predate the orchestrated mechanics of David Jackman and Vagina Dentata Organ. These sections are cut up with beautiful songs, all executed with a level of unself-conscious exuberance that is extremely poignant. The closest parallel is definitely the kind of benign DIY current loosed by the Department Store Santas LP and the themes are just as odd, with a beautiful gay love song centred on two young kids—“Sideways Love Forever”—sandwiched between damaged folk rock blasters, pre-lapsarian jigs, field recording from deep inside the void of 1970s suburbia, snippets of Tucker talking to his car, piano led lost-teen ballads and huge zones of “car-sounds-run-through-tremolo-pedal effects and tape manipulation”. “Some listeners have pointed out that much of what is on the album, particularly the long, disjointed, droning, melting, nightmarish ‘Submerged Bat Vortex’ strongly suggests mental illness,” Tucker confesses. Eva herself contributes vocals to “Honey Tree”, while Tucker’s armoury is bolstered by co-conspirator Shakey T. Colley on blues harp, electric guitar and tape manipulation as well as Chris DeMuynck on electric bass, John Vignola on acoustic guitar and Tom Von Ebers on electric guitar. “The last time I saw Eva Bataszew was on her 24th birthday: September 4, 1979,” Tucker relates. “She died, apparently by her own hand, in 1987. I didn’t hear about it until 1990. Shakey T. Colley died at age 40 in 1996 of what appeared to be an accidental overdose of drugs. They had both been alcoholics. For personal and professional reasons, I legally changed my name in 1991 to T. Storm Hunter. From 1979 to 1993, I continued to write and record, eventually issuing most of this material on CDs and posting downloadable songs on the Internet. Yet, this album—which most people found incomprehensible and unlistenable in 1975—is the one work in my discography which, after more than a quarter-century of obscurity, is finding an audience. Go figure.” As a document of the singular experience of a star-crossed group of friends, lost somewhere in mid-century America and fully committed to the defiant arc of their own tongues, Batstew remains unparalleled. Highest possible recommendation.
Released: January 1, 2010
Mark Tucker / Batstew - 4000399
This is one of those LPs that I’ve heard about for years. People’d say to me “Roland, it’s right up your alley” or “Roland it’s terrible. You’d love it!” But when I’d ask’em to describe it they’d go doe-eyed & get all pickle faced ‘n say “you just have to hear it for yourself.” Well finally, thanks to the De Stijl label, I have. And let me tell you something: I am perplexed about what I heard. Mostly, I guess, ’cause I ain’t hearin things what other scribes have insinuated I should. Department Store Santas? Desperate Bicycles? Not in my kung fu village! To me this LP teeters on a precipice between euphoria & anguish. It is certainly the work of an unstable mind & tortured soul. I mean, you can almost feel Tucker’s circuits shorting out as the record progresses. You don’t need to read the insert to hear that! There’s a lot of sadness & confusion goin on too. It’s a record about a guy’s love for his car. It’s a record about a guy’s love for his girl. There’s a song that’s evidently an ode to homosexual love (not that there’s anything wrong w/ that). The guy records himself talkin to his car, slammin the doors, the girl whispers & sings along sometimes. Yeah, it has it’s moments. Like the naif, art brut-ish noisescapes that Tucker occasionally creates or like the dingaling song at the end of side 2 that’s about a Cadillac (among other things) that eventually crumbles into a fuzzy guitar “freakout”. It is one odd fucker of an LP, there’s no denyin that. But how someone—& I won’t say who—winds up comparin it to the albums by Department Store Santas & Desperate Bicycles is beyond me. Oh sure, those’re nice lures you’re tossin out there, but they’re inappropriate. Those bands LPs are challenging. Tucker’s is more challenged. Maybe what they meant to say was that one day Mark Tucker saw someone dressed as a department store Santa, went bananas, then desperately rode a bicycle to the mental institution. I dunno. I wasn’t there. If I was to sell you this record I would say “imagine a record that sounds like someone who claims to be Daniel Johnston who rerecorded Smile” or “imagine if Larry Fischer had been commissioned to do the Pink Moon LP as literally a Volkswagen commercial”. Would you buy it? I know I would because that sounds like something that’s right up my alley & the descriptions are terrible enough that I’d probably love it. That said, Batstew is certainly a unique album. I dunno about a masterpiece, but shorter people are prone to exaggeration. And that’s a fact! I’m glad I got to hear it & props to De Stijl for reissuing it.
~ Roland Woodbe / siltblog
Released: July 31, 2008