Music

Wicked Witch: Chaos: 1978-86

Scott Hreha

There's a pervasive feeling that regardless of how authentic Richard Simms' "brother from another planet" persona might be, the music is still a matter of style over substance.


Wicked Witch

Chaos: 1978-86

Label: Em
US Release Date: 2009-01-20
UK Release Date: Available as import
Amazon
iTunes

There's a long, peculiar tradition of what you might call the "brother from another planet" -- African-American artists who go beyond the mere embrace of weirdness and eccentricity to a place where the only logical explanation is to believe they're simply wired that way from birth. Sun Ra and George Clinton are two high-profile examples of this archetype. Depending on how strictly you define it, you could even extend it to include people like Jimi Hendrix, Prince, Andre 3000, and Madlib. While the concept is ripe with metaphor, it's also no coincidence that some of these artists are responsible for some of the most iconoclastic music of the past 50 years.

Richard Simms might not be an innovator on the level of those artists, but he certainly fits into the same continuum. Working in early/mid-1980s Washington, DC under the alias Wicked Witch, Simms released a handful of singles on the presumably self-financed Infinity Records, which are collected in this compilation from the highly respected Japanese reissue label Em. (Judging from the dates given, this is not the same Infinity label that was home to Rupert Holmes and Spyro Gyra before folding back in to its parent company MCA in 1979.) Simms is a mysterious cat, to be sure -- research turns up little more than already published reviews of this same collection -- a sense only furthered by the Rick James meets Gene Simmons visage leering from the cover of the appropriately titled Chaos: 1978-86.

Musically, the majority of the disc consists of material from a 12-inch and two 7-inch singles, six tracks total, with Simms performing all instrumental and vocal parts, except for some additional synthesizer and voice on "Erratic Behaviour" and "X Rated". All of these pieces bear a heavy P-Funk influence, whether in the primitive guitar shredding on "Fancy Dancer" or the Bootsy-like vocal exhortations of "You ain't cool!" interjected throughout "Erratic Behaviour". The only unfortunate difference in Simms' music is the near-total lack of discernable song structure. Where Parliament tempered even its most extended tracks with melodic hooks, Simms' overall approach is little more than loopy jams with layers of stream-of-consciousness vocals that float just above and below the meniscus of the mix.

One notable exception is the lone group performance, "Vera's Back", recorded in 1978 and credited to a Simms-led ensemble called Paradiagm. The entire sextet shows off some serious fusion chops over the course of 12 minutes, moving in and out of tight unison lines for violin, bass, guitar, and synthesizer like an Afrocentric Mahavishnu Orchestra. Simms' vocal ramblings also play a more pivotal role than on the disc's other tracks, providing vital (though still relatively nonsensical) bookends to the long instrumental sections.

But what it really all comes back to is that repeated mantra of "You ain't cool!" that bursts through the murky funk of "Erratic Behaviour". There's a pervasive feeling that regardless of how authentic Simms' "brother from another planet" persona might be, the music is still a matter of style over substance. At its best moments, Chaos: 1978-86 is as hypnotizing as it is unlistenable. At its worst, well, it's merely self-indulgent. Certainly this collection will be of genuine interest to aficionados of outsider music, but even those with the most obscure of palates will need more than a little patience to find the quality that lies beyond the novelty.

5

Music

Books

Film

Recent
Film

Rodd Rathjen Discusses 'Buoyancy', His Film About Modern Slavery

Rodd Rathjen's directorial feature debut, Buoyancy, seeks to give a voice to the voiceless men and boys who are victims of slavery in Southeast Asia.

Music

Hear the New, Classic Pop of the Parson Red Heads' "Turn Around" (premiere)

The Parson Red Heads' "Turn Around" is a pop tune, but pop as heard through ears more attuned to AM radio's glory days rather than streaming playlists and studio trickery.

Music

Blitzen Trapper on the Afterlife, Schizophrenia, Civil Unrest and Our Place in the Cosmos

Influenced by the Tibetan Book of the Dead, Blitzen Trapper's new album Holy Smokes, Future Jokes plumbs the comedic horror of the human condition.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

Fire in the Time of Coronavirus

If we venture out our front door we might inhale both a deadly virus and pinpoint flakes of ash. If we turn back in fear we may no longer have a door behind us.

Music

Sufjan Stevens' 'The Ascension' Is Mostly Captivating

Even though Sufjan Stevens' The Ascension is sometimes too formulaic or trivial to linger, it's still a very good, enjoyable effort.

Jordan Blum
Music

Chris Smither's "What I Do" Is an Honest Response to Old Questions (premiere + interview)

How does Chris Smither play guitar that way? What impact does New Orleans have on his music? He might not be able to answer those questions directly but he can sure write a song about it.

Music

Sally Anne Morgan Invites Us Into a Metaphorical Safe Space on 'Thread'

With Thread, Sally Anne Morgan shows that traditional folk music is not to be smothered in revivalist praise. It's simply there as a seed with which to plant new gardens.

Music

Godcaster Make the Psych/Funk/Hard Rock Debut of the Year

Godcaster's Long Haired Locusts is a swirling, sloppy mess of guitars, drums, flutes, synths, and apparently whatever else the band had on hand in their Philly basement. It's a highly entertaining and listenable album.

Film

The Dance of Male Forms in Denis' 'Beau travail'

Claire Denis' masterwork of cinematic poetry, Beau travail, is a cinematic ballet that tracks through tone and style the sublimation of violent masculine complexes into the silent convulsions of male angst.

Film

What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .

Music

The Cradle's 'Laughing in My Sleep' Is an Off-kilter Reflection of Musical Curiosity

The Cradle's Paco Cathcart has curated a thoughtfully multifarious album. Laughing in My Sleep is an impressive collection of 21 tracks, each unapologetic in their rejection of expectations.

Music

Tobin Sprout Goes Americana on 'Empty Horses'

During the heyday of Guided By Voices, Tobin Sprout wasn't afraid to be absurd amongst all that fuzz. Sprout's new album, Empty Horses, is not the Tobin Sprout we know.

Film

'All In: The Fight for Democracy' Spotlights America's Current Voting Restrictions as Jim Crow 2.0

Featuring an ebullient and combative Stacey Abrams, All In: The Fight for Democracy shows just how determined anti-democratic forces are to ensure that certain groups don't get access to the voting booth.

Music

'Transgender Street Legend Vol. 2' Finds Left at London "At My Peak and Still Rising"

"[Pandemic lockdown] has been a detriment to many people's mental health," notes Nat Puff (aka Left at London) around her incendiary, politically-charged new album, "but goddamn it if I haven't been making some bops here and there!"

Music

Daniel Romano's 'How Ill Thy World Is Ordered' Is His Ninth LP of 2020 and It's Glorious

No, this is isn't a typo. Daniel Romano's How Ill Thy World Is Ordered is his ninth full-length release of 2020, and it's a genre-busting thrill ride.

Music

The Masonic Travelers Offer Stirring Rendition of "Rock My Soul" (premiere)

The Last Shall Be First: the JCR Records Story, Volume 1 captures the sacred soul of Memphis in the 1970s and features a wide range of largely forgotten artists waiting to be rediscovered. Hear the Masonic Travelers "Rock My Soul".

Music

GLVES Creates Mesmerizing Dark Folktronica on "Heal Me"

Australian First Nations singer-songwriter GLVES creates dense, deep, and darkish electropop that mesmerizes with its blend of electronics and native sounds on "Heal Me".


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.