I typed “Chris Colbert” into the search on Facebook. With a click I learned that we have 26 mutual friends. I sent the “friend” request. A short time (exact time is not known, but it wasn’t days) later, I was informed I was the 300-something friend of Christopher Colbert, mastermind behind the band/project Fluffy. It’s the Internet of Things Big Data Clouds and this is how to secure The Interview (I think … but talk myself out of it … in to it … out of it). Friend Request? Why, yes, thank you much Facebook.
Now that Christopher Colbert & I are Friends, this means I can send him an instant message [… don’t overthink it, just need to send the Message] to ask the important questions: “What was the deal with Fluffy? Specifically, the Sugar Pistol record?”
All I have are questions! Cazart/Fucking hell/Boo Yah/Hot damn. This is a weird record! What is “Shrimpy Brine”? What role did Indie Hindie play? Who was the secret weapon? How drunk/high was everyone or is this Teetotaler Rock? What is going on lyrically, especially on “Chrissy Rides Fluffy”? Is this really Christian rock? Is it? [The converse: Rock made by Christians … eh, whatever. Doesn’t matter to me, just had to ask.]
Stare at the screen while “Wayfarin’ Stranger” blasts in the headphones. It is the first of the last three songs on Sugar Pistol and tells you everything you need to know about what Fluffy was in 1995.
Here is this song, an alternate universe take on the traditional “The Wayfaring Stranger,” that is, shockingly… amazing. Somehow Colbert et al marry krautrock-via-The-Fall with blastoid Sonic Youth guitar-jamming to create a slab of darkness, claustrophobia, and stress (perhaps not the intention). Another question: what are the weird “Hey, Paul” spoken word pieces (answering machine messages? IM chats? Emails?)? In the matter-of-fact style of delivery, something ominous is happening (even though they are likely meant to be funny).
“Chrissy Rides Fluffy” is a great slab of experimental pop. Steve Hindalong takes the lead vocal. I have no idea what the story is… I do know the song, the structure… the way it builds is sick and the arrangement is sublime. Hindalong’s echo’d snare drum anchors the track while Colbert interjects a variety of guitars — heavily affected stabs of single chord, Wedding Present-esque chord progressions, swirling-shoegaze-y, goofy noodling; you get the idea. When Hindalong sings, “He’s layin’ down on the minor 7” the guitars explode into a multi-layered cacophony of organized chaos for about 16 beats, then everything drops out to subtle noise fest and Hindalong’s vocals come back. The song is quite a ride, pushing and pulling, tugging and letting loose.
“Sugar Pistol” closes the record out… this is a comedown. Definitely experimental, oddly gorgeous, it’s a recovery from the… insanity of the previous 10 tracks. Layers of guitars, drones, intelligible spoken word, tape loops, samples, closing with a kazoo (WTF?) playing “What a Friend We Have in Jesus.” It’s bizarre and calming; unsettling and warm.
You, discerning music listener, and I, astute prof-crit-fanchild, need to deal with this record. It calls for analysis. Put the songs into groups… run the data. If I don’t, I will quit my job and fall off the grid.
[clinch fists, tighten neck]
What is Fluffy? I’m overthinking.
[close eyes breathe]
Keep going. It’s in the data.
Sugar Pistol Segmentation
The Experimental Pop: “My Love,” “Wandering Wonderful,” “Chrissy Rides Fluffy”
The Tension-Filled-Post-Punk-Indie-Rock: “Shrimpy Brine,” “Bleach,” “Wayfarin’ Stranger”
The Spazz-Dark-Punk-Rock: “No Friends,” “Bakin’ A Cake”
The One-Offs: “Moonage Daydream” (the Cover), “Sugar Pistol” (the Plain Experimental), “Dead Horse Grin” (the Throwaway)
Indeed, the data indicates that Fluffy in 1995 was an entirely new Fluffy. Dig deeper and the opening track, “Shrimpy Brine,” with its prominent guitar drones further exemplifies the metamorphosis. Here is a ramshackle, mind-bending track, those drones on the verses giving way to feedback-laden post-punk guitars on the demi-chorus. The coda brings in tubular-bells-ish-synth over those drones. Weird. “Bleach” follows: amidst tension-filled, simmering rhythms and darkness, Colbert brings atmospheric guitar flourishes that slide and glide, high to low, and sound like he’s falling off the precipice.
“Dead Horse Grin” mines the familiar territory of the Mike Knott-influenced Go, Fluffy, Go! Frankly, this could have been left of the record as Fluffy has moved well beyond the post-grunge sound that permeated that record (although there is some lovely fuzzed out pysch-pop licks).
Yes. A question: how was this not bigger? “My Love,” a phenomenal weirdo dance track with lead vocals by Hindalong, is also one of the best on the record. Colbert throws in massive layers of guitar with stabbing chords floating on top. Undeniably influenced by UK post-Madchester dance (Primal Scream) plus the pop experimentalists (Boo Radleys). Add that there is also a veritable Chrindie Future All Stars (*gulp* *natch*) contributing: Jason Martin plays drums, Ronnie Martin programmed the drum loop, and Tess Wiley gives backing vocals.
I’ve made it clear that Fluffy, at their core, are punks, and here we are given two tracks as a reminder. “No Friends” and “Bakin’ A Cake” are blistering weirdo punk tracks. Guitars are thin and crunchy, the lead singer’s vocals are buried in the cacophony. It’s gorgeous and after the dance-y/air-filled “My Love” and “Wandering Wonderful.”
“Moonage Daydream”; yes! A Fluffy record would not be a Fluffy record without a cover song. Previous releases find these covers to be gloriously sarcastic and quite bonkers. This one starts off as a near-tongue-in-cheek karaoke jam, but things shift about halfway through. The vocals are desperate and effected with delay/reverb, then Colbert takes over for the last two-and-a-half minutes with feedback laden glam guitars that crescendo, pull back, crescendo, pull back like a safesurfer-darlin’. This time Fluffy are reverent, dare I say “serious,” and actually twist the song into a soaring desperation of existential ennui.
“Wandering Wonderful” is another truly incredible slab of experimental pop: droning guitars, false-start non-chorus, a bizarre smacking sound (like some packing a pack of smokes or slapping spoons on skin), a breakbeating-sorta-dance-y beat, and fookin’ catchy. This is one of the best tracks on the record with one of the best moments when the vocals and drones drop out leaving the drum beat, and someone saying the totally unsettling/hilarious/bizarro “You’re going to have to pay for that.” W.T.F. (in a good way).
Analysis complete. Deep dive/double clicks and actionable insights. Feels great! Brings utter clarity to why I did not attempt to contact Colbert. You see, I — and likely you! — prefer mystery. Some questions are better left unanswered. Mystery. When it comes to left-of-center records, that mystery only adds to the glory. Sugar Pistol is a delightful, weird record; belonging nowhere, accepted by none!