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The Homosexuals - Astral Glamour

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Artist: The Homosexuals

Album: Astral Glamour

Label: Morphius

Review date: Aug. 5, 2004

Quotes from the 1982 manifesto of Black Noise Productions, the Homosexuals’ record label.

  • “Our minds are in any case speaking for the whole world – not having any other facts than to be for the other place on any piece of land with a name and address.”

    The sounds on Astral Glamour, an anthology of 81 songs recorded by The Homosexuals in its various incarnations between 1978 and 1983, show an amazing disregard for limitation. Besides producing a prolific amount of music, the band incorporated so many disparate elements in an effort to create their own sound, they collapsed boundaries all together, a figurative black hole absorbing matter, mangling it and regurgitating it anew.

    Born from the 1977 London punk scene, the Homosexuals’ first incarnation, the Rejects, started out opening for the Adverts, X-Ray Spex, the Damned and the Jam. Bruno Aleph Wizard, the Rejects’ singer whose chosen name reflects his arrival in London in the heyday of the psychedelic scene, formed a second version of the Rejects a little later. That band imploded when Bruno, Anton Hayman (guitar) and Jim Welton (bass) decided to dissociate from the punk scene by renaming the band: The Homosexuals was born and any chance of cashing in on the punk craze was lost.

    The Homosexuals made a concerted effort to avoid commercial success, holing up in various London squats, recording on borrowed time in friends’ studios, putting out their own records (often under pseudonyms) and rarely playing shows. Despite these outsider leanings, their music is more eclectic than experimental. Most of the experimental aspects – dissonant harmonica drones, surrealistic lyrics, multiple stylistic and rhythmic changes within songs – act as a veil for, basically, eccentric pop songs, complete with vocal harmonies, choruses and verses. Though they were making music in the same scene as This Heat, to which they are sometimes compared, The Homosexuals was concerned with crafting songs in interesting ways more so than deconstructing them. The band was heavily influenced by afro-beat and – like The Clash – by reggae and dub, but instead of assimilating those styles into a punk sound they created a band that was a sieve through which such sounds could pass and, then, emerge radically altered.

  • “The first rule is to exist…The music will be there to remind and say what we perhaps did not have time to.”

    Between 1978 and 1984 the Homosexuals released three singles, two EPs, two LPs and two cassettes; only four of those releases bear the band’s actual name, all but one are released on the band’s own Black Noise label. The most comprehensive is The Homosexuals LP, released in 1984 and re-released in 2004 by ReR; in those 20 years, The Homosexuals became a cult favorite that many more people have heard of than actually heard.

    What draws these songs together? Besides the low-fi production values, the most pervasive elements are jangly guitars, the tension between acerbic sounds and pop melodies, jagged guitar lines and subdued, dub-influenced rhythms. There is also a sense of discord, even unease. The Homosexuals explicitly rejected the formula for pop hits devised by the record industry, but many of their songs brilliantly exploit that formula. “Prestel” starts with a mod-esque strummed guitar accompanied by exuberant, even child-like lyrical exclamations, before dissolving into a sea of ominous synthesizer tones, guitar sludge, delayed harmonica and, finally, slurred spoken word. Of course, the tension can also be traced to the continuous promenade of drummers that came and went, intrapersonal issues, moves from one squat to another, the pressure of recording whenever and wherever possible – in general, maintaining a strict regiment of bohemian living and evading any chance of popularity.

    The Homosexuals somehow knew it all from the start, anticipating – or even planning – their own impact on an obscure stratum of culture saturated with obscure bands and personalities. This seeming foreknowledge is part of the band’s charm; as if – like Ronald Reagan – they were planning their own grand funeral from the moment they reached the prime of their lives. What has made the band so attractive to record collectors and obscurantists, besides the limited number of records available, is the fact that the band embodies the DIY ethic that is the hallmark of punk rock. Through the Homosexuals, punk can still be remembered as fiercely original, intelligent, passionate and anti-commercial, rather than crass and simplistic – the romantic notion of planned obsolescence is upheld.

  • “Any sound that we produce is born of reality and the promise of life and happiness.”

    The Homosexuals’ songs have no originals, only recorded versions – at one point Bruno even suggested destroying the master tapes, to the other members’ horror. (The liner notes suggest he might have gotten to some of them anyway, as a number of recordings are missing). As a result, some of these songs are not very good, or are incomplete, or sound terrible. Some have tape warble, some cut out in the middle. Astral Glamour includes many of these fragments, in an order that is hardly discernible and not entirely listenable – the first disc starts with “Hearts in Exile,” followed by “Soft South Africans”; later in the same disc, the full mix of “Hearts in Exile” is followed by the guitar mix of “Soft South Africans.”

    The inclusion of disintegrating pieces of sound implicitly deigns The Homosexuals worthy of museum status. Capturing the band’s entire evolution presumes that it was important enough that almost everything they put on tape deserves to be heard. Surprisingly, this isn’t actually far from the truth. Like any museum retrospective, there are some pieces worth examining for hours and some that are only instructive, or interesting in passing. But, more importantly, the elation and vitality of people making music for its own sake infuse almost every moment of Astral Glamour.

    By Alexander Provan

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