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The Residents - Santa Dog 1972 CD (album) cover

SANTA DOG 1972

The Residents

RIO/Avant-Prog


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Neu!mann
PROG REVIEWER
3 stars Frank Zappa was sent one. Richard Nixon, too. But I certainly don't own an original copy of this now ultra-rare 1972 set of twin 45 rpm singles, the first records ever made (after some even more primitive amateur tape experiments) by those anonymous anti- music misfits known as THE RESIDENTS.

And yet it hasn't languished in total obscurity over the years. Residents fan club members may have heard it. And the "Santa Dog" singles surfaced briefly on the 1987 CD release of "Meet The Residents", the four "songs" (actually a quartet of wacky, abstract Yuletide collages) fitting snugly alongside the unique, lo-fi scrambled egg sound mix of their debut LP. So why were they then deleted from subsequent CD re- issues of the album? Only the Eyeballs know for sure; at any rate it explains the stand- alone review offered here.

But first, a little history. Back in 1972 The Residents weren't just anonymous, they were completely unknown: a group (or not) of shoestring avant-garde wannabees recently relocated from somewhere in rural Louisiana to suburban San Mateo, California (my hometown, and thus a point of personal civic and cultural pride). This self- produced, fledgling musical effort was intended as a promotional Christmas card, sent with tongue firmly in cheek to a select group of movers and shakers. I doubt if President Nixon ever received his copy (too bad: his administration could have used a little comic relief comfort and joy), but he did resign from the Oval Office shortly afterward, so who knows?

In the tradition of nerdy art school iconoclasm the title of each track was chosen at random from an insurance policy (a clue to one of the Resident's day job?), and each of the four sides of vinyl is credited to a separate, fictional band. "Fire" (by IVORY AND THE BRAINEATERS) is the Santa Dog theme, and the most conventional piece of music here (which isn't saying much, admittedly), featuring something akin to an actual melody, played on discernibly real instruments.

"Lightning" (by THE DELTA NUDES) starts with a warped rendition of "Jingle Bells", and then collapses into a truly nerve-wracking quasi-Krautrock clatter of rudimentary violins, horns, and a toy piano. "Explosion" (performed by THE COLLEGE WALKERS) is a fairly sophisticated blend of overdubbed percussion and silly poetry, owing a strong stylistic debt to CAPTAIN BEEFHEART, circa "Trout Mask Replica". As does "Aircraft Damage" (credited to ARF & OMEGA and THE SINGING LAWNCHAIRS): more tape loops, sampled rhythms, unidentified noises, and a surrealistic chorus urging listeners to "kick a cat today!"

Even by their usual mock-aesthetic standards this is pretty raw stuff: a crude but compelling attempt at musical non-conformity by a group of distinctly non-musical neophytes more comfortable messing around with two-track tape and scissors than playing genuine instruments. It's a record obviously made by (and for) people not afraid to risk frying a few brain cells for Art's sake, but be warned: long-term exposure can almost make it begin to sound halfway normal. And that's a scary thought...

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Posted Tuesday, October 11, 2005 | Review Permalink

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