Misterlee: Night of the Killer Longface (CDLP)
Rubber Czech Records
contact: http://www.misterlee.co.uk

After decades of electro, techno, baggy, and what have you, twenty years on it's been interesting to see a slew of groups wearing their art/post-punk hearts on their sleeves. Bands like Franz Ferdinand taketheir cue from a time in the late 70's and early 80's when people were chasing with a will the options opened by punk. Things connecting these groups included their willingness to experiment with musical forms and,often but not necessarily, a certain political engagement. Most of allwhat identified them was a will to control their own, usually independent, destinies irrespective of fashion. This itself was political: taking control of what you do as a band to stop it being turned into another fly-by-night product.

For those who remember Wire or the Gang of Four it's been fun watching a new generation relive their moves. The whole exercise would have been
worth it if only because it's led the Nightingales to reform, something I haven't space to write about here. Still, you can't help wonder what
lies behind the revival. Maybe there's a real ground surge of indie activity. Maybe it's just another case of stealing the clothes of
yesterdays radical movement to tart up todays shop dummies. Either way, it seems to me that a wave of indie-punk revivalism had been growing at least from around the time The Strokes were being hyped.

There's a case for thinking in terms of what I'll call 'homeopathic punk'. In homeopathic medecine they take a chemical and dilute it until there's little or nothing left of the original. The diluted solution is supposed to do you good anyway, even when the only thing left in common
with the original chemical is the label on the bottle. I started to think about punk homeopathy when I saw film of the MC5 reunion sponsored
and organised by Levis jeans. The MC5 were Ur-punks, punk before punk itself. Militantly revolutionary in their origins, they've ended up
selling jeans and being imitated by what now seems like hundreds of groups slashing at their guitars in imitation of MC5 guitar gods Wayne Kramer and Fred 'Sonic' Smith, but with the agenda of social revolution now turned into a programme for an evening's light (though noisy) entertainment. I want to say that lots of what I hear as punk revivalism is homeopathic punk, sold by the same sort of quack doctors (the bastard
children of Alan McGee.)

Which brings me to the album, 'Night of the Killer Longface' by Misterlee (aka Lee Allatson and friends), the second by this Leicester group. I mention all the stuff about homeopathic (post)punk not because Misterlee remind me it, but because they don't. They're looking back to a similar period, but they're making something of it rather than just reselling it. Their references take in the deranged psychedelia of a Syd Barrett or Skip Spence, but also look to post-punk stalwarts like Pere Ubu, The Soft Boys and The Swell Maps. The thing is, they seem to be moving in the same territory as these groups rather than just mugging
them for their natty clothes on the way to a meeting with the bank manager.

The lyrical themes of the album are often whimsical - in one song you're invited in passing to mourn the death of a tamagotchi; in another
you can ponder a 'magnesium horse in the pizza-coloured fields' and so on. Syd Barret is never far away, though not necessarily as a direct
influence, but as someone else who enjoyed taking a specifically English silliness (Lear, Caroll) and welding it onto pyschedlia. I don't think Lee's imagery is anywhere near as sharp as Barret's, but he's looking through similar windows.

Most importantly, there's a strong feeling throughout for the DIY ethic central to post-punk groups like The Homosexuals, The Door and the
Window and The Raincoats. I mean, it's not just that this happens to bea DIY production, but they seem like they *want* it to sound like that.
The album boasts more than it's fair share of penny whistles, jew's harps, cheap keyboards, banjos and the like, played in what you can
safely call a 'non-virtuoso style' over a background of more or less traditional guitar, bass and drums. 'Fortune Telling Agnes' has a Casio drum track and keyboard that recalls Trio's 'Da Da Da'. There was a time in history when The Swell Maps were masters of this sort of lo-fi
psychedelia (before they were reduced to having Lee Renaldo cash in on their reputation by writing the sleeve notes for posthumous compilations
of their work.) Another ingredient is the kind of electronic noise Pere Ubu like to splash on their songs - Misterlee too like to throw the syth
noises around pretty casually, not to detract from what they're doing but to introduce slices of awkward-squad dissonance when it feels like a
useful thing to do - 'Magnesium Horses' has some great bursts of squealing electronics punctuating it which, like the echo feedback that closes the album, reminded me of nothing less than Faust (maybe a pocket-sized, tamagotchi Faust.)

Whether they meant to or not, Misterlee have placed themselves in an art-punk space and made something of it. Tracks like 'Broken Shrine
Mirrors' and 'Lazified' are stripped back and angular. If I said that the effect is sometimes whimsical, I don't mean that it's twee: these
tracks at least have an undertow of menace which hints that all's not necessarily well in the Misterlee psyche.

I'd say that they could do with thinking more about lyrics. Sometimes you can't help but feel that the urge to write psychedelic-sounding
lines wins out over the need to create a vivid image. Nonsense lyrics are fine by me, but there's few things more grating than gibberish
trying to pass itself off as psychedelic poesy (not that this happens a lot - but they sometimes hover on the edge.) Similarly, the production
doesn't always do the group any favours - with such a wide palette of instruments and sounds to hand, they could afford occasionally to relax
a bit, turn the amps up to 11, the echo-plex and distortion boxes on maximum, and see what happens, rather than keeping such a strong hand on the mix. Despite these criticisms, this record strikes me as playing in the same sand box as post-punk. Misterlee are not ultra-slick, they haven't got their sound or themselves entirely pinned down. For these and other reasons it's hard to see them gripping the nation by the throat and selling a lot of records. Still, they're a group playing with a freedom, invention and sense of fun that is the real legacy of punk. Records like this will always get my ear over those of plumped-up, slick
re-sellers of yesterdays news, even when yesterdays news was very good indeed.

Andy Wilson