Patrick Cowley is known almost exclusively for his disco material. Starting out in the late ‘70s with collaborations with Sylvester and remixes for Donna Summer (the infamous 15 minutes mix of the Moroder masterpiece “I Feel Love”), Cowley eventually forged a promising career of his own, scoring a hit with the queer anthem “Menergy” and authoring three early albums of absolutely brilliant atmospheric space-age Hi-NRG disco before succumbing to what in 1982 was only known as gay-related immunodeficiency (GRID, later known as AIDS). It should be no surprise then to those who’ve discovered Cowley’s work since that his long lost album Catholic, recorded between 1976 and 1979 with Jorge Socarras, is genius electronic work way ahead of the curve. What may stun, though, is the actual sound of the album, a multivalent suite of post-punk paragons that not only resemble many of the most important vanguard sounds from this period (sometimes simultaneously) but actually precedes them.
The call and response of “In and Out”, contrasts a low-end monotone not unlike that of Phil Oakey with a high-pitched whinge resembling Devo’s Booji Boy. “I’ll Come See You” also seems to pre-reference the choral chords of Devo’s “Peek a Boo” with a dark-goth slab that feeds off of bits of Morse-code blips straight out of Kraftwerk’s “Radio-Activity”. To complete the Devo triptych, “Edie Go to My Head” even appears to anticipate Weird Al Yankovich’s parody of Devo. It runs a Peter Gunn bass melody through conga drums, chrome-plated guitar, weird effects, and samples from television (way before industrial music made sampling a mainstay), while Sorcarras’s lyrics reference “test patterns in my dreams” and other iconic imagery infecting his consciousness like a videodrome. On songs like this and “You Laugh at My Face”, Socarras incorporates the kitsch of disco into the po-faced world of postpunk and nascent synth pop, but it never undermines the duo’s larger agenda of experimentation and sonic adventure. “You Laugh at My Face”, for instance, marches at a stern, determined, and slightly creepy gait as an ode to male insecurity.
Sorcarras’s background is in the largely forgotten Indoor Life, one of the few bands who successfully carried on Roxy Music’s art-pop tradition without reducing it to wank-prog pop. As such, he’s the album’s secret weapon. Socarras and Cowley are unafraid to reach for any sound available to them, be it DAF-style Euro body music minimalism (“Robot Children”), percutaneous rush synths (“Burn Brighter Flame”), Ballardian power-punk (“Cars Collide”), or Cluster-like komische (“I Remember”). The bent pitches of the melodies of opener “Memory Fails Me” even recall the current crop of hypnagogic popsters, as does the lyrical content sung by Cowley. “Electric currents snap / But there’s a trace of something / Haunting static nothing / Memory fails me.” Even though Catholic was rejected by its original record company and never heard from again until now, it seems to have found away to spectrally infiltrate much of the most exciting sounds that followed its disappearance.
// Notes from the Road
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