Words: James Frostick and Kim Salmon
Artist image: Semiconductor Media
On Kim Salmon & The Surrealists’ eighth record Rantings From The Book Of Swamp, the enduring Aus underground veterans are getting weird with it. A worldwide live-streamed improvised performance is now a double album, one that smoulders and crackles with the immediacy of a live recording, but with an off-kilter poise that could only be nailed by a crew of seasoned veterans.
It’s unlikely Kim Salmon has encountered anything like a worldwide pandemic in his 30-odd year career. Even still, the legendary musician whose discography includes work with Aus-rock luminaries such as The Scientists, Beasts of Bourbon and, of course, Kim Salmon & The Surrealists has found a way to maintain his creative streak, turning what was originally intended as a live recording of new Surrealists tracks into a notable chapter in his storied recording history. Rantings From The Book Of Swamp, which officially dropped last week, is a collection of sonic shards dismantled and deconstructed and then forged anew into a collection of jagged clatter. It’s a sparse record, one that relies on the combined effort of three musicians performing alongside and responding to one another to create something from only the faintest whispers of an idea.
Kim, alongside Phil Collings and Stu Thomas, laid down a session of improvised jams in June with the help of Semiconductor Media – the resulting effort is an album of off-the-cuff sketches that have been given existence as crude-yet-thrilling explorations into loosely charted corners of their brains. It’s a record of slinking bass, skittering guitars and abstract phrases – herky-jerky threadbare arrangements sit alongside slow swampy blues stompers and freaky-funky groovers. Rantings From The Book Of Swamp is an album fuelled by impulse – wild freeform spontaneity saddled, yoked and broken in. Not necessarily tamed, but controlled. It’s a time capsule from a period where the music industry has been stymied, but musical creativity is more exciting than ever.
Kim Salmon himself was kind enough to elucidate the thought process and energy that pulses through the record, which may be one of the more singular records to emerge from this dumpster-fire of a year.
Actually Welcome to Country. My Dads mother, my favourite relative – everyone called her Sammy, we found out after her death was half Aboriginal. Should have guessed! eg what was hers was the whole family’s. All of the animals and people she was forever taking in. When I came back from London she told me she’d bought We Had Love and she praised it. Her ancestors came from the North West of Australia and God knows where in Europe. I think about her lots. I figured I oughta acknowledge the true location of where these sounds were about to come from.
‘I think I Cracked This Thing’
Stu’s throwing round the numbers as I knew he was bound to! Phil’s lapping them up with a shit-eating grin all over his face. I can’t figure them but get lost in the groove. I have words about secret combinations, mystical formulas, the Colonel’s secret recipe!
‘Le Party Girl’
I don’t have any tune except for “shangalangalangalang(guitar) Hey Party Girl!”. Give me some disco I tell Phil. I play a typically funky Am7 chord for Stu the funkmeister to pick up and shout the rest ie the chords to Stu, and the words about my girl Maxine, from The Book Of Swamp.
When your country is burning and its head of state has removed himself to take a holiday, one wonders why the country doesn’t take its cue from that head and permanently remove it – or a leaf out of the French Revolution’s book. The band has by this stage slid right down into a swamp funk. I quote ‘Bourgeois Blues’ from Tav Falco’s Panther Burns (actually a Leadbelly song) pretty soon into the song.
‘You’re Looking Too Close’
Phil’s soundscaping. The form is abstract but coalesces and condenses over time. A major key is the key. Jangling open strings, Stu and I diatonically linked and opposed simultaneously. The words I’ve had for a couple of years. About powerful successful people being repulsed by people that remind them of themselves.
“Lets lay low with some Laylo” is the lame joke I crack when the groove Stu pulls up makes me think of the Mission Impossible theme and its composer Laylo Schiffrin (Dirty Harry too). It is nearly mission impossible putting words into this I think, but leftover rhyming rants from ‘Burn Down The Plantation’ might be shoe-horned in! Not until I yell to the band to “slow down”.
G E the bass notes Stu is playing, just like the company. But this is private, acoustic. We get Myles the engineer to set up for my nylon string acoustic just in case. There are no vocal mics near the set up. A respite for me from the hyper-vigilance of navigating words melodies and guitar lines. Just lovely laidback looseness for me. To debrief in. Stu and Phil keep the tension till the end.
‘Dark Age Revival’
Day 2 – Stu menaces some dark encroachment of a line that takes me back to 1972 and Casey Kasem’s American Top Forty hearing the Undisputed Truth’s ‘Smiling Faces‘ and The O’jay’s ‘Backstabbers‘. I’ve got words about light, subtly and nuance being out the window in this age. I’ve no idea how Stu’s counting this. Phil probably doesn’t care. The groove is solid, if off-kilter! We just go for the groove – off kilter will come naturally here.
‘Knives In The Concrete’
Second session, second song and already going for the respite of the ‘acoustic guitar, no vocals’ again! There’s a story that I can’t tell behind this one.
‘Follow The Fluids’
Stu’s baritone guitar emanates beautiful harmonies and it does the singing for me, allowing me the space to half-speak and throw out shards of feedback and distorted harmonics. I’ve got words about fluids, the world is hydraulic after all. What kind of fluids? I’ve been painting lots lately but don’t let me tell you what the song is about! Stu drives the rhythm at the start but Phil takes it over and drives this home.
‘Burn Down the Plantation’
Everything is contextual! Just the title is loaded, but with Black Lives Matter protesting going on worldwide. Just to spell it out though – the plantation is an obvious symbol of slavery and repression. I wrote the words back in January with no particular agenda but I imagined slave ghosts rewriting history. I’m armed with a tune and a riff. Stu and Phil had to guess where to go! This band is so ORSUM!
‘Are You Smart Enough To Know How Stupid You Are’
I’d written these words a couple of days before and hadn’t even tagged them, but they are easy enough for me to locate when the sonic assault we seemed to be purging ourselves with settles into something resembling a song. That’s because they’re the last lyrics in the Book Of Swamp – ha!
‘Did You Pick It Up In The Playground?’
Some words I make up on my permitted morning exercise walk seem to come with a tune and some chords. They get written into my book and before I know it The Surrealists are jamming on it and our session is all but over. Phil handles the fills deftly and Stu has this song’s number, including its middle eight like only he can! I think it’s an example of when the songs DNA is in the title. Perfect for a Surrealists deconstruction.
Rantings From The Book Of Swamp by Kim Salmon and the Surrealists is out now. Click here to stream/purchase.