The Mermen are an all-instrumental band from San Francisco whose sound harks
back to surf music of the 1960s, but is altered by a
blues-psychedelic neurosis a` la Neil Young and by devastating spasms
a` la Jimi Hendrix, thanks to guitarist Jim Thomas' flights of imagination.
Their first full-length album, Krill Slippin' (Kelptone, 1989),
went by unnoticed, and for a few years the band was banished.
Food For Other Fish (Kelptone, 1994) marked the beginning of their
mature phase. Thomas' vision had blossomed into something completely unknown,
an odd association of surf music, country music, progressive-rock, hard-rock
Thus the instrumental sound of the Mermen bridged several decades and
The album does not lack impressionistic vignettes such as Raglan,
shows of dexterity such as Drift,
and romantic fantasies such as Bondage Of The Sea (the kind of pieces
that one expects on instrumental collections) but its artistic and philosophical
core is elsewhere.
The seven-minute epics Be My Noir embodies the spirit and the praxis
of their art: atmospheric guitar, soothing melody, solemn pace, sudden bursts
of energy, occasional discharge of noise, echoes of sunny landscapes,
languid soliloquy and introverted self-analysis.
The centerpiece of another seven-minute piece,
The Silly Elephant Who Stomped To Tea, is a convoluted gallop through
a landscape of cacti and hallucinations, surf music on speed.
The melody of My Black Bag gets warped, deformed, distorted by a fury
that belongs to hardcore.
Honeybomb evokes honky-tonk music and syncopated square dances
but also plunges into ugly hells of dissonance.
To add substance to an already intense program,
the album closes with two eight-minute pieces that are also the most pensive:
Pull Of The Moon and Dancing In Her Sleep.
The former is a slow, tortured dirge that flows towards controlled cacophony,
while the latter is a somber, colloquial meditation.
Live At The Haunted House (Shittone, 1994) grants the leader
maximum freedom to show off.
I Mermen sono un complesso strumentale di San Francisco il cui sound parte
dalla musica surf degli anni '60, ma viene percorsa da
una nevrosi blues-psichedelica alla Neil Young (a tratti persino Jimi Hendrix,
grazie ai voli del chitarrista Jim Thomas).
Il primo disco, Krill Slippin' (Kelptone, 1989), passo` inosservato
e per qualche anno il gruppo fu relegato al circuito minore.
Food For Other Fish (Kelptone, 1994) metteva gia` in mostra i tre
aspetti che vengono fusi dalla loro musica: la musica surf degli anni '60
(Drift), il progressive-rock degli anni '70
(The Silly Elephant Who Stomped To Tea) e l'hardcore degli anni
'80 (My Black Bag).
Live At The Haunted House (Shittone, 1994) diede sfoggio soprattutto
del virtuosismo del leader.
A Glorious Lethal Euphoria (Toadophile, 1995) finds a miraculous
balance between revival and experimentation.
The album opens with the lightning-speed instrumental dervish of
Pulpin' Line, a tour de force of Thomas' guitar and Martyn
Jones' drums, but the real delicacy is the intrepid rambling of
The Drowning Man Knows His God and
Under the Kou Tree, pieces that are much more complex than they
sound, bordering on John Fahey's East/West fusion and on jazz-rock.
Even conventional songs in the atmospheric "beach" style such as
Scalp Salad, satanic rave-ups such as Lizards and
frantic square dances such as Drub
are riddled with countless detours and variations, that turn them into
Three nine-minute jams tower over the rest:
Obsession For Men, a soulful blues that
Jimi Hendrix would have killed for;
Between I and Thou, that deconstructs a catchy country theme;
and And The Flowers They'll Bloom, imbued with the majesty of
There is more than style in Mermen's music: there is an almost fanatical kind
Their best record could be the
EP Songs Of The Cows (Mesa, 1996), a fantastic case of improvised rock.
The four-part suite Brain Wash continues their ambitious program.
The more concise instrumentals of
The Amazing California Health And Happiness Road Show (Source, 2000)
prove that Jim Thomas ranks among the most underrated guitarists of the 1990s.
The majestic, symphonic, twang-drenched ode Unto The Resplendent,
colored with oriental and Hawaian tones,
and the fervent, throbbing and ornate White Trash Raga
are mystical pieces that achieve a pathos halfway
between the Velvet Underground, a surf band, John Fahey,
Indian classical music and the Grateful Dead.
The closing, 17-minute Burn opens with a 3-minute introduction of
free-form noises (in the tradition of Albert Ayler and Indian raga) and then
intones a solemn hymn. Layers of keyboards, percussions and
guitar sounds build up a dense texture. After five minutes of electro-acoustic
dissonance, the vision-prayer is crowned by a two-minute celestial
"mantra" for guitar and keyboards.
On the lighter, "comic" side,
the laid-back country & western romp of
Emmylou Rides Clarence West And Then South gets progressively
faster and harsher, and
the frantic, supersonic gallop of Little Stinky Kitty distorts
guitar chords in abominable ways.
The vocabulary of Thomas' metaphysical surf music is impressive.
Walking The Peach is a western piece that resonates of cavalry charges
and Indian war dances but also of zen meditation;
while Mike's Lush Beehive erupts with the energy and rawness of Joe
Satriani playing a Who's anthem.
Thomas experiments with several styles (even dub and calypso) and never
loses the thread of his mental journey, even though a few tracks wink at
the new age and soft jazz audience.
This kind of deconstruction of surf music had not been attempted since the
The guitar trio of Nels Cline, Henry Kaiser and Mermen's Jim Thomas, along with drummer Weasel Walter and Mermen's bassist Allen Whitman, recorded Jazz Free (september 2008).
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