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Saccharine Trust - We Became Snakes CD (album) cover


Saccharine Trust

Eclectic Prog

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Honorary Collaborator
4 stars Making both ends meet.

If you always wondered if eggplants, salmon and vanilla ice cream taste good together or do jazz, punk and prog rock goes together? and if anyone has ever gone that road? The answer is Yes. While I can name just a handful of bands that have tried this fusion of styles, Saccharine Trust would be the definitive act who clearly took both styles and made it one, and totally their own too, where music's most two contradicting genres try to coexist. Their story goes like this... the band was founded by Jack Brewer and Joe Baiza in 1980 in Los Angeles where they were part of the hardcore punk scene along with Minutemen, Black Flag and other SST groups. In 1984 the band has released their first full length album which already then showed how long they have come since their early punk days. 1986 saw the band releasing their second album while refining their act and going as far as no other punk band have ever dreamt of getting, mixing jazz and fusion elements while incorporating more instruments like saxophone, cornet, piano and more to their sound and style.

What's funny about this album is that you can attribute every member to a different genre. The vocals are punkish, guitars are progressive, bass is fusion and drums are sewing everything together, it might sound a little unrealistic but it actually works very well. Vocals by Brewer although are relatively restrained in comparison to early punk vocalists are still punkish in nature. He's not exactly singing of course, he's just reciting, shouting and throws a lot of energy, reminds me Henry Rollins a lot. Guitars by Joe Baiza are what's making them progressive and diverse, no power chords and no dirty loud guitars are to be found here. Instead Mr. Baiza is like strolling in the park and just plays whatever he comes up with, part of it is definitely improvised. He has a very Frippian kind of leads which suits the punk elements very well, on top of that he throws all kinds of weird jazzy chords, sometimes melodic but a lot of dissonant too. Although he always plays with distortion he switches from calm jazzy leads to furious solos. Bass by Bob Fitzer is so cool, he doesn't stick to one style of playing, he is clearly influenced by other jazz fusion bass players and it shows a lot ( Pastorius comes to mind here). There's a lot of saxophone here which give that final jazz/fusion vibe, very cool stuff going from easy caressing kind of leads to furious shrieking outbursts and everything that's in between.

There's a lot to enjoy in this album but not everything is in the same level. The first two tracks "We Became Snakes" and "Drugstore Logic" are awesome! I wish the whole thing would be like this, their cool blend of punk attitude and jazzy crimsonian sinister guitars are working perfectly. "Frankie On A Pony" is a long instrumental and it's jazz from head to toe, enjoyable yes but hardly an essential jazz piece. "The Need" is a short kind of jazzy ballad done with clean guitars, piano saxophone and vocals, good and overall contributes to the diversity of the album, but both I think is a little sabotaging in the album's good momentum. The next four tracks is a good return to form exploring their blend of extraordinary styles, I mean you just got to listen to this to believe. The album ends with an acoustic short piece which marks the very far end of the band's creative ideas, done with an accordion, acoustic guitars and harmonica. I don't think they ever dreamed when they first started out only six years before, that they would ever perform such a song, I mean that's enough to get them banned from performing in a punk concert for life.

This is Saccharine Trust best album and shortly after its release the band would break up due to difference of opinions about the band's direction, their fusion of styles I guess finally took its toll. I don't think this album/band would appeal to everyone of course but it's cool to check out how it all works eventually. 3.5 stars rounded up because of their originality, creativity and vision. So then I guess double egg, chips, beans and eggplants, salmon and vanilla ice cream will sort you out for the day....oh and a tea!

Report this review (#1132609)
Posted Sunday, February 16, 2014 | Review Permalink
Retired Admin
4 stars The band's third full-length release was also their swan song; and a fine way to bow out too, bringing together the band's strengths into a sophisticated, thrilling, varied batch of tunes. The band's jazz inclinations, introduced on 1985's improvised Worldbroken, are solidified by the addition of a full time sax player with jazz chops (Steve Moss) and a new bassist who can really wail (Bob Fitzer). Tony Cicero, on drums since 1984's aggressive Surviving You, Always, shows how much he has grown as a player, with a really solid and understated mix of finesse and power that makes him the unsung hero of this album. Jack Brewer (vocals) shows his range as well, with some of the best lyrics of his career, and sing/speaking in a very wide range of voices; from screaming intensity (end of the title track) to winking sarcasm (Drugstore Logic), to actual singing (The Need), a plainspoken declaration of love (the concluding Belonging to October), to just not singing at all (the instrumental Frankie on a Pony). Joe Baiza (guitar) is the true star here, though, playing a lead/rhythm style that throws down blankets of strange chords and solos in strange scales over them, even as Brewer is weaving his verses and Fitzer is hitting every fret (or lack thereof... he plays fretless a lot too) on his instrument. The music is as colorful as the album cover.

The title track opens the album - very quietly at first, with free atmospheric interplay between bass, drums, and guitar. When the song begins proper, Brewer is in full flight, recreating the Garden of Eden in his own surreal poetic way, hitting a spine-tingling climax at the end of the track. "Drugstore Logic" is a funky little number with Brewer taking on the character of a pedophile or a drug dealer (take your pick). Again, Brewer ramps up the emotion, hitting a peak right at the end. "Frankie on a Pony" is next, a total jazz instrumental written by and featuring Baiza. Nice stuff, and for 9 pleasing minutes too. "The Need" concludes side one with a brief ballad, Brewer showing his melancholic, vulnerable side, like mid-period Swans.

Side two opens with "For Her While", a darkly rolling art rock masterpiece built around chords that I'm convinced Baiza made up himself. Somehow Fitzer finds a rockin' bass line to ground this dissonant track, and Moss (sax) makes significant contributions here too with a great solo. Brewer keeps his voice low and atmospheric, ceding the focus to the brilliant interplay of the band. "Effort to Waste II" is next, a remake of a song from their debut EP from 1981. The lyrics are the same, but the musical arrangement is completely overhauled, giving Fitzer and Moss another chance to dazzle on the fretless bass and tenor sax on this sleek and speedy tune. "The Redeemer" slows it down, giving Moss more room to do his thing on sax. Again, Brewer lays back, reciting his thing but giving the spotlight to the band. Next up is an odd one - "Longing for Ether" is built around a prog jazz groove, but contains two sets of lyrics - one recited by Joe Baiza in one speaker, the other recited by some guy named Gary Jacobelly in the other speaker. Cool beans. Finally we have the acoustic (!) ballad "Belonging to October" with guest accordion and harmonica, and Jack Brewer, the man who once screamed like an evangelist on nearly every song, actually confessing "I love you" without hint of irony in a very touching lyric. Somehow, a fitting way to end such a daring and unpredictable album.

This is the album that the prog fans will want to check out. If you like this and wouldn't mind hearing them do it more loudly, give Surviving You, Always a try. If you want more of their jazzy side, try the live improvised Worldbroken. Also, Joe Baiza, Steve Moss, and Bob Fitzer formed a new band called Universal Congress Of after this album, which further explores the jazzy directions taken on this album.

Report this review (#1141616)
Posted Tuesday, March 4, 2014 | Review Permalink

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