In the end, Sun City Girls let us down easy. And reeaal pretty. It’s too much to consider, and too soon as well, trying to place this record in SCG’s continuum. But Funeral Mariachi, the final studio album from these three demon-kings—made with late drummer Charles Gocher and prepared for release after his 2007 death—is ecstatically imagined, brilliantly played and exquisitely recorded. While it’s also the group’s most straight-forward expression in memory, it still feels like one gorgeous lump of mystery, the epilogue to a centuries-old tale—everything laid bare and tied together—only in a language that may never have existed.
Somehow it seems more fantastically impenetrable when the words are in English: “When I was dead I looked exactly like you / Now I’m alive where nothing is true,” they tease in “This Is My Name,” one of a handful of songs that rank with SCGs’ most hair-raisingly exotic. “Holy Ground” amplifies the vibe exponentially, sketching a landscape of deserted towns howling ghost-histories to blood skies, while someone resembling Alan Bishop’s Uncle Jim gives grippingly metered dictation, incantatory. It’s the co-headliner alongside a cover of Morricone’s “Come Maddalena” (despite what your ears may suggest, the only Morricone song here) on a second side that just hums with energy, solemn and somber but neither downcast nor without—this band was never without—humor (say, the po’-faced delivery of the prosaically loungey “El Solo”).
That’s the mark of Funeral Mariachi: A band that never broke a sweat merging the high, low and in-between in one song delivers it constantly in one piece, swirled syntheses that could never be separated back out. Humor is bound to reverence, mischief to terrifying virtuosity. A squalling guitar freakout lays down nicely over the steady gallop of “Ben’s Radio”; something like a kazoo, except too full-bodied, punctuates the prayer wails and surf-Sufi guitar chants of “The Imam”; “Black Orchid” conjures a Thai spy in Cairo, a serpentine triple-agent wearing a fez captured in an inter-dimensional all-nighter of Tangiers Hold ’Em.
Again, it’s kind of too much to consider; exactly the way Sun City Girls ought to go out. What an album. [Abduction]
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