Pick Up Heaven

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Along with his tenure as one of the mainstays of extremist noise addicts the Butthole Surfers, King Coffey ran the estimable Trance Syndicate label from 1990 to 1999. Alongside the likes of Slint, the Trance Syndicate bands were an important early building block in what would become known by mid-decade as post-rock, with releases by bands like Labradford, Windsor for the Derby, and American Analog Set. Coffey also released a single and two albums by his own side project Drain on the label, starting with 1992's Pick Up Heaven. A mostly instrumental trio collaboration with bassist Owen McMahon (the Cherubs) and guitarist David McCreath (from Coffey's earlier side project the Hugh Beaumont Experience), with Coffey on drums, keyboards and occasional (distorted and buried) vocals, Pick Up Heaven didn't entirely make sense upon its release, but it now sounds like an early signpost of post-rock's mix and match aesthetic. Coffey's rhythm tracks, which use both electronic beats and live drums, are tough and aggressive, but not exactly danceable. (The one exception is the album's fairly brilliant single "Instant Hippie," a barrage of pummeling techno beats, acid-rock guitar drones, and found-sound samples from a 1960s-vintage shock documentary about the psychedelic scene reshaped into a hooky modern dance record mixed by the hot producer of the moment, Butch Vig.) Similarly, the guitars are as heavy and distorted as in the predominant grunge style of the era, but there's none of grunge's debt to vintage '70s metal, with McCreath instead favoring one-chord drones, controlled feedback, and deliberately simple melodies that fuse the Velvet Underground and acid-house keyboards. The resulting mesh of influences, ranging from the Jesus and Mary Chain through Big Black to the dance influences that would take full root on Drain's second album, 1996's Offspeed & in There, makes for an album that in retrospect sounds remarkably prescient. Coffey and his collaborators manage a surprisingly varied set of tunes along these ten tracks, highlighted by the outstanding "Flower Mound," one of the great lost indie rock tunes of the early '90s, and the creepily atmospheric dance-rock pulse of "Crawfish." Coffey even indulges in a little of his main band's trademark crackpot sonic manipulation with the minute-long closer "The Ballad of Miss Toni Fisher," which is simply a slightly edited snippet of one of Roger Miller's songs from the soundtrack of the Disney animated version of Robin Hood from the early '70s.

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