Punk rockers often preened over grating sonics, but Suicide – Martin Rev and Alan Vega – truly made noise that annoys. In the late seventies, the downtown duo fashioned a primitive, purposefully atavistic brand of electronic music that had more in common with punk than the sort of refined approach of groups like Kraftwerk or Can. Audiences – even downtown New Yorkers – hated it so much that Vega was often chased from the stage (and even attacked) during performances.
Like a lot of things that seemed terrible (or terribly unimportant) at the time, Suicide has emerged as particularly influential over the years, thanks to a whole slew of bands fashioned in their image, from Soft Cell to Peaches.
Displaying a sense of timing that’s eluded them in the past, Suicide are releasing American Supreme, their first album in over a decade, this week. With Vega’s choppy, Beat-inspired lyrics and Rev’s often crude sense of sonics, American Supreme is remarkably similar to the group’s seventies work. But that doesn’t mean the album isn’t challenging. It fact, American Supreme proves that Suicide can reach backward and still remain ahead of the pack.
Even in its least compelling (or completely annoying) moments, there’s a refreshing daftness and a disregard of the confining strictures that rule electronic music. “Damn Rain Damn Train” moves to a blippy, reggae-style rocksteady beat; “Power Au Go Go” features cavernous echoes that rival the best dub producers; and both “Wrong Decisions” and “Televised Executions” joyously rework familiar sources of hip-hop samples (the Mohawks’ much-used “Champ” in particular).
Much of American Supreme recalls the berserk freneticism of proto-hip-hop singles like Rammellzee and K-Rob’s “Beat Bop.” The comparison is instructive: “Beat Bop” was produced by Jean-Michel Basquiat, and Vega, too, is an artist (he even had a show at Deitch Projects earlier this year). This can lead to insufferable excesses – Vega’s stream-of-consciousness rants can sometimes flow into Jim Morrison–esque messianism – but American Supreme is art made with a prankster’s sensibility.
American Supreme (Mute)