The Prefab Messiahs: Devolver – album reviewThe Prefab Messiahs – Devolver (Burger Records)

CS/DL

Out September 24th

Burger Records release a remastered twenty seven track anthology from left-field garage psych-pop trio The Prefab Messiahs.

The Prefab Messiahs (Xeth ‘Xerox’ Feinberg, Kris ‘Trip’ Thompson and Mike “Doc” Michaud) formed during the early 80’s Wormtown arts scene as three left-field agitators revolting against a plastic age through a unique conflation of garage pop, psych and post-punk musical styles.

For their first live performance, they devised and distributed copies of their manifesto, a weirdly funny, but on-point indictment of consumer culture and the ‘friendly faces of corporate fascism’, such as Ronald McDonald and the Pillsbury Doughboy.

The Prefabs took aim at Reagan-era values and branding as a new religion, which remains a powerfully relevant current day struggle as the public’s mindless enslavement to trends and advertising continues unabated. Logos, slogans and mascots embed themselves into our daily lives and thoughts in a seemingly innocuous way, while we ignore the gradual soulless commoditization of our existence and the dangers of happiness being measured by material goods at the expense of real human worth…

The sound of The Prefab Messiahs is equal parts Josef K, Swell Maps, The Three O’Clock, Syd-Barrett-era Pink Floyd, and The Clean, and yet they are more overlooked than any of those bands. Perhaps their scathing wit as concerned social critics, combined with their experimental dada-ist performance art and literate psychedelic 60s influence seemed a bit backwards and alienating during that period.

Paradoxically, by acknowledging the kinship of their psych-garage forebears and tapping into the genre’s varied sound palette, like the many contrarianisms at work within the music itself, they were actually ironically way ahead of their time.

The exploding resurgence of vintage psychedelic sounds in the contemporary ‘scene’ provides ample evidence of this – not only have these like-minded bands revitalised art rock in general, but they have also re-appropriated the classic rebellious urgency of their parent’s music for a new generation. It’s an enduring ‘brand’, if you will, and something that will never go out of fashion.

The new Devolver is an impressively comprehensive collection which features tracks available on previous reissues Peace Love & Alienation (Fixed Identity, 2012) and the “Franz Kafka” / “Prefab Sun” 7” (Almost Ready, 2011) all with newly tweaked and noticeably enhanced sound quality.

The Prefab Messiahs: Devolver – album review

The highlights are many, including the joyous metallic shamble of opening track “Prefab Sun”, the b-side of the Franz Kafka 7” which was recorded live at the WCUW Music Fair in Grafton, MA on August 23rd, 1982.

This is followed by the fierce, chugging existentialism of “Franz Kafka”, recorded live during an opening slot for Mission of Burma at the infamous X-it 13 on December 16th, 1982.

The Bobb Trimble produced “The 16th Track” is funky enough to incite a possessed shuffle from the listener resembling a sudden hives attack at a dance hall. It shares a similar narrative as The Human League’s “Black Hit of Space” (supernatural forces having a monopoly on record sales and the luxuries of stardom), but is a lot more fun. This time dark magic and devil worship is responsible (“There’s a coven ’round the studio / They’re laying tracks in stereo…”), and when Xeth “Xerox” Feinberg shrieks “When the time comes, we’re gonna go to Hell!”, you hope he’ll take you with him.

“Cousin Artie” is irresistibly catchy, and the closest the Prefabs came to penning a bubblegum number, although the sweetly yearning Casio VL-1 mini synthesizer does momentarily get sucked into a sonic tornado of dissonant drones before re-emerging unharmed through the other side.

“Desperately Happy” acquaints the listener with the two-faced complexity of The Prefabs even by title alone, simultaneously rejecting and celebrating our corporate idols with a triumphantly melodious clang. It is jittery and guitar driven, with a fantastically unexpected yet euphonious keyboard solo, and would be in good company next to the more widely celebrated classics on the Left of the Dial box set.

 

These garage pop gems are intercut with some more brief experimental tracks and bizarre rants showing off their sense of humour and preoccupation with donuts (“Got a Hole In Me”, “He Was a Donut”, “Donut Man”, “Donut World”)!

“Sacred Cow” was recorded live at a local battle of the bands face-off, and the heavily reverbed malcontent of Feinberg’s vocals, as well as the mechanical Casiotone percussion and moody ‘violin’ keyboard riff, make it one of the collection’s more somber moments. However, in true Prefabs style, there is an underlying drollery and playfulness to it all, and there’s never any doubt that their tongues remain firmly in cheek (“They’re grinding down the sacred cows / for burger meat and puppy chow”).

Listening to Devolver, you have to wonder why The Prefab Messiahs have stayed on the fringes of the underground for so long, relatively unknown to anyone apart from the most avid record collectors. I even plugged them into The Obscurometer for a laugh (a fun time-waster website integrated with Last.fm to analyse your listening habits and determine whether you’re a ‘Top 40 fan’ or an ‘indie rock individualist’), and their overall obscurity rating stands at a respectable 90.3%.

The unconventional, rebellious and highly inventive free-spirit of the Prefab Messiahs’ music definitely deserves a broader appreciation, especially in today’s hyper-convenience addicted world. Hopefully their presence on Burger Records and the resurrected cult of the cassette tape will be a step towards amending the oversight of the casual, MacDonald’s chomping listening masses – long may the Prefabs franchise continue!The Prefab Messiahs: Devolver – album review

The Prefab Messiahs are currently finishing mixes of brand new material assisted by Doug Tuttle (formerly of Boston’s great but now defunct MMOSS) and Apollo Sunshine’s Jesse Gallagher.

Long-time Prefabs friend and collaborator Bobb Trimble also has a live cassette dropping via Burger Records on October 1st, ‘The Flying Spiders in Brooklyn’.

The Prefab Messiahs are on Facebook and Twitter.

Devolver cassette now available through the Burger web store here.

All words by Carrie Quartly, you can read more of her writing on the site here.

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