Post-Rocktoberfest 2011: Flying Saucer Attack
What, you might be forgiven for asking, did Flying Saucer Attack have to do with post-rock? After all, post-rock in the original sense tended to be rather rhythmically solid and occasionally somewhat glossy; with all sorts of influences from electronic dance music and hip-hop. Post-rock in the contemporary sense tends to be epic and demonstratively emotional; full of big crescendos and widescreen angst. Flying Saucer Attack, on the other hand, were always decidedly shy and retiring; existing in an introverted, funk-less, lo-tech fug of fuzz and mumble; My Bloody Valentine with all the lustiness and digital tricknology bled out.
Perhaps it’s just a matter of association. FSA will always be associated with the Bristol post-rock scene of the 90s, alongside the likes of Movietone, Crescent and Light. This brought them into contact with more typically UK post-rock-sounding acts like AMP and The Third Eye Foundation. And in fact, as FSA went on, they did start to take on board the technologically-enhanced rhythmic innovations of early post-rock per se. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves, aren’t we?
First of all, it seems ridiculous to talk of Flying Saucer Attack as “they” when the whole thing was essentially the bedroom recording project of a pale-and-interesting record collector by the name of David Pearce. True, he had some helping hands – notably Rachel Brook of Movietone – but Flying Saucer Attack was clearly the realisation of Pearce’s very singular vision.
(The lo-fi, bedroom recording aspect is a large part of what sets Flying Saucer Attack apart from much early-to-mid-90s post-rock. One FSA’s slogans was “Home Taping is Reinventing Music”. In fact, though, there was quite a bit of crossover between the British version of lo-fi and UK post-rock – hear the early Hood material for evidence.)
Second, portraying Pearce as an intense and insular type only tells one side of the story. Did you read that bit in parentheses about FSA having slogans? When a musician starts using slogans, it tends to suggest s/he has some kind of overarching ambition; a slightly arrogant desire to impose a very specific worldview on the record-buying public; a special plan for this world. In fact, Pierce’s diffidence clearly masked an impish, mischievous personality as well as some satirical and deeply ideological intent. (In this regard, he had a lot in common with Ian Masters of Pale Saints/Spoonfed Hybrid infamy). All this is to say that Pearce in no way lacked post-rock’s artistic ambition or desire to disrupt and move ahead.
Pearce’s wiseacre sense of humour came through early on, when Flying Saucer Attack covered Suede’s “The Drowners” on their self-titled debut album. Listen closely and consider deeply and this incredibly sloppy, fuzzed-out take on a quintessential early Britpop anthem will tell you everything you need to know about FSA. Flying Saucer Attack also hinted at the more rhythmic nature of the band’s later work, via some pretty freaky percussive jams. Furthermore, it was a crystal clear statement of intent in terms of establishing Pearce’s credentials as an ahead-of-the-game rock scholar. Not one but two of the songs were named after kosmiche music/new age legends Popol Vuh – which was a pretty obscure reference for a British indie band to make at that time. (Pearce was also way ahead of the pack in embracing UK folk – he memorably described his music as “rural psychedelia” and FSA covered “Sally Free and Easy”.) If all that were not enough, the album featured what may be FSA’s best song, “My Dreaming Hill”.
So, Flying Saucer Attack encompasses pretty much anything you might want from Flying Saucer Attack. But to hear the band’s most coherent statement, you’re advised to grab Further. The “Outdoor Miner” CD single is also worth hunting down as it features a beautifully fragile rendering of the classic Wire tune, as well as another stone-cold FSA classic, “Everywhere Was Everything”. For some insight into FSA’s more rhythmically-focused later work the Chorus compilation (featuring the glorious “Feedback Song”) and New Lands album are both well worth hearing. Listen to the lot and you should get a fairly decent idea of what a richly rewarding and hard-to-pin-down phenomenon Flying Saucer Attack really was.
Anyone know what Pearce is up to these days?