Gary Sloan and Clone - "Harmonitalk" (Harmonitalk)
If a weirder album than Harmonitalk comes out this year, then whatever it is will go down in history as one of the most bonkers records ever. This strange and unfathomable album, dug up by the guys at the ever-wonderful Finders Keepers, is about as peculiar — nay, batshit-crazy — as they come. It should probably come as no surprise, then, that Harmonitalk was originally released not in 2012, but at the height of the synth-pop craze in 1981, when just about every musical idea conceivable, no matter how absurd, was brought that much closer to reality by virtue of artists having access to cheap and nasty synthesizers. For Gary Sloan and his buddies, that meant electronica backing, um, a harmonica.
Perhaps what’s weirdest (that word’s gonna become a leitmotiv) is that, at times, it really works. The harmonica’s sudden eruption on the opening title track is jarring, as Sloan warps its sound through a multitude of effects, transforming this most rootsy of instruments into a futuristic sound generator. The backing track may be simple post-Normal synth-pop, but between the harmonica and Sloan’s vocoder’d lead singing, “Harmonitalk” stands as one of the most original and unusual tracks of its era. It’s followed by a campy spoken-word interval that comes across as a sub-par Arthur C. Clarke whimsy, which in turn segues into “Good Indian,” which fuses moody Vangelis-esque synth with an echo-laden harmonica solo that stretches across time from the Far West to Blade Runner. If later tracks on the album, such as the exhaustingly MOR “Together Again” and the cheesy “Backporch Blues,” fail to build on such an auspicious opening salvo, the enduring emotional impact of “Good Indian,” in particular, enhances Harmonitalk and ensures this strange and overreaching opus remains more than just an oddball experiment. Even the aforementioned weaker tracks carry enough idiosyncrasies to be more than just filler. Better weak and weird than just weak, I guess.
Despite the domination of synths and drum machines over much of the music, Harmonitalk actually owes its vision to Gary Sloan’s past as leader of Anchorage, Alaska, prog act Proof, with his anything-but-self-conscious enthusiasm for melding the harmonica and synths something of a throwback to the wide-eyed positivity of the hippie era. The album’s final two tracks are ambitious in scope, dominated by lush synths and clearly inspired by Eno’s ambient works and the mellow prog of the likes of Curved Air. This eclecticism has its strengths, but also prevents Harmonitalk from really cohering into a proper album. But like another recent re-release from the synth-pop era, U.V. PØP’s No Songs Tomorrow, it’s oddly pleasing to know this album exists again.