12 September 2010

Algebra Suicide: The Secret Like Crazy

Algebra SuicideAfter 1982's stunning True Romance At The Worlds Fair, the wife and husband duo of Lydia Tomkiw (words and music) and Don Hedeker (music and vice) bided their time. Tomkiw frequently booked friends with bands or poetry into clubs, and even co-owned one (Lower Links) for a period. She was not just a poet and band-member, then, but a tireless promoter of the local Chicago scene.

It took three years for the second four-track Algebra Suicide EP to be issued. An Explanation for That Flock of Crows ploughs the same rich furrow of declaimed poetry, muted buzz-saw guitar and clanking drum box. No track reaches three minutes and two of them are half that. Brevity helps make these itchy songs compulsive, but one has to admit they are not a patch on the debut.

Two more releases followed. In 1986 Cause & Effect issued 13 tracks on cassette in a limited edition of 200 copies. This album, Big Skin, was re-issued in 1988 on Buzzerama. A good Samaritan has recently made a dub available. Three of these same tracks were selected for a Buzzerama single. This included the track that was to become the emblematic Algebra Suicide song.

I've heard that somebody is born every eight seconds,
So I presume that someone dies every eight seconds,
Just to keep things even.
It makes me feel short-changed when I read the obituary page --
Someone's holding back information.

Originally titled "Little Dead Body Poem" for its publication in Columbia Poetry Review and appearance on Big Skin, then retitled as "Little Dead Bodies", this track approaches five minutes in length -- almost as long as the entire EPs that preceded it! Not only does it have a guitar solo, it has a music video, which I urge you to watch immediately. In every way, then, this is Algebra Suicide's epic, the tune for which they are best known. And why not? It's incredibly funny and perceptive, even without factoring in the bitter-sweet foreshadowing of the poet's end.

Incidentally, this video illustrates their stage presentation: dressed all in white Lydia would project slides over the band, a quick and easy home-spun multimedia event.

The Secret Like Crazy includes three of the four tracks from True Romance At The Worlds Fair, three of four from An Explanation for That Flock of Crows and six of thirteen from Big Skin. Seven previously unreleased tracks fill out the count, and conclude what can be seen as the first arc of the band's trajectory. After this the drum machine would be upgraded, new synths added and bargain basement recording ditched in favour of something a bit more mainstream. Algebra Suicide would never again be as essential. Which is not to say that fans won't want to hear their subsequent releases: Alpha Cue, Swoon and Tongue Wrestling.

The Secret Like Crazy has been previously blogged on Mutant Sounds and Systems of Romance, but this is our own superior vinyl rip. The album was issued simultaneously in 1987 on RRRecords in the USA and Dom Elchklang in Germany. Oddly, two different covers were used.

Listening to it as an entity it's apparent that synth and bass have been added more for sonic variety than to enrich the tracks musically. There are experiments in mood and tempo, even some "singing". But it all hinges on the words, and when these are perceptive, humorous or striking the songs work.

Me, I love it, and am so glad I bought a copy "back in the day".

When I go, I want to go clean, convenient, leaving no mess
As if I vaporized while taking a shower,
As if I moved to Antarctica
Leaving no forwarding address.

-- Second Chameleon

The Secret Like Crazy


Algebra Suicide: The Secret Like Crazy

A01 Little Dead Bodies
A02 Somewhat Bleeker Street
A03 Gist
A04 (A Proverbial Explanation For) Why No Action Is Taken
A05 Father's By The Door
A06 Tractor Pull
A07 Tuesday Tastes Good
A08 In Bed With Boys
A09 Sinister
B01 True Romance At The Worlds Fair
B02 Tonight
B03 Please Respect Our Decadence
B04 Heat Wave
B05 No War Bride
B06 Let's Transact
B07 Lethargy
B08 Amusing One's Self
B09 Recalling The Last Encounter
B10 Seasonal Zombies
B11 Agitation

lp RRRecords [RRR 022] 1987
lp Dom Elchklang [DOM EK 001] 1987
cd RRRecords [RRR 022] 1987 (1000 copies)

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