Supreme Dicks

Breathing and Not Breathing

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The Supreme Dicks so completely thrived off a sentiment of "if boxed in or defined, immediately leave" that the idea of an all-encompassing box set that covers their truly cryptic recording career is almost impossible to contemplate. But Breathing and Not Breathing provides exactly that, pulling together both of their formal albums, The Unexamined Life and The Emotional Plague, the odds-and-sods compilation Workingman's Dick, and their Italian-only EP This Is Not a Dick -- plus even more obscure moments -- into one convenient spot. If anything, their resistance to summary makes further sense in a new century; while acts like No-Neck Blues Band and practically every last part of the Tower Recordings family tree are only two similarly inclined agglomerations of across-the-map artistic impulses, the Supreme Dicks set a particular tone even earlier. Perhaps even more so than the three longer releases, This Is Not a Dick captures just what is so hard to easily say -- whether it's the twisted, naïve bursts of reverbed steel guitar (or steel guitar-like) on "Untitled," the sweet bitterness of "Summertime (Childhood's Impossible Now)," or the apparently live recording chaos of "Leaning on the Everlasting Arm," the sense is of putting things together just because, a curiosity that constantly shifts ground, as much roots work as futuristic oddity. The fact that the one definitely live track, "Harmonic Convergence," begins with a member asking the audience "Does anyone want to play drums with us?" sums up the spirit of the band as well as anything else, the wryly voiced request seeming to elicit little more initially than bar chatter and snippets of background butt rock. The further five cuts on the disc include both sides of their only stand-alone single, "Sky Puddle," and the creepy guitar-as-music-box feeling into murky jam of "Country of Nuns." Then there's "Careful with That Axe, Steve," presumably referring to member Steve Shavel; if the result isn't as psychotic as the Pink Floyd it references, it's still a quick, wiggy blast of demi-space rock jamming. The remaining full-length efforts sound as enjoyable and strange as ever, including the group's one sort-of hit, "Jack Smith" (courtesy of Low's cover version on their Transmission EP), and the whole is a portrait of a collective creative spirit that sounds as unsettled and fascinating as when the original recordings were made.

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