Perfect Sound Forever


by Jay Hinman

The stature of many proto-rock heroes of the 1970's has grown with the swelling and mainstreaming of punk music through literature (From The Velvets to the Voidoids, Please Kill Me, etc.), reunion tours and a few well-placed name checks by savvy indie bands. Rock acts that in the 1980's seemed like a repressed secret to all but a few (Modern Lovers, Big Star, Destroy All Monsters; hell, even Roxy Music's first 4 or 5 records may as well have been a distant blur), primarily due to the out-of-print nature of their vinyl, are now routinely & justly heralded as pioneers. Accordingly, the past decade has been a pretty unprecedented time for reissues and for discovering killer bands that lurked in decidedly uncool locales. The first half of the 1970's, once slandered as pretty much being the absolute bottom of the barrel as far as the history of rock was concerned, turned out to have a stellar cast of misfits slogging their way out of the aural damage wrought by the hippies. The profound influence of these men can be heard to this day.

 Canada's SIMPLY SAUCER, however, may be reckoned to be the single greatest 1970's band to have influenced absolutely no one. Now, it's quite possible that the rock world's eyes weren't exactly riveted on Hamilton, Ontario in 1974; it may be that the band themselves were less than ambitious in getting the word out via touring; maybe there truly was a vast conspiracy orchestrated by the Laurel Canyon cocaine cartels that drugged North America into temporary abeyance with a steady diet of Eagles, Poco and Fleetwood Mac. More plausible was the lack of any recorded representation of the original band until the late 1980's, which prevented some of the most jarring & transcendent rock and roll ever laid down from letting a hundred apocalyptic electro-rock bands bloom. Combining a dense, guitar-heavy surge with a bizarre dose of space-age electronics, Simply Saucer set up a uniquely futuristic sound marked with a lyrical vision of modernity gone very, very wrong. Author Grady Runyan once wrote that in dissecting the band, one must "imagine Hawkwind ditching their Sabbath/Deep Purple tendencies for "Sister Ray," or better yet the Count Five pounding out "Interstellar Overdrive" in the middle of "Psychotic Reaction"". The comparisons are apt, as the band hued well to classic rock structure while flailing wildly within its borders. It's not just the lyrics that call up images of robotic dominance and the dreaded black helicopters; the often Teutonic music does the job almost as well. Yet it would definitely be a misnomer to compare the band to the Germans who were busy creating an avant-garde rock wave of their own in 1973-75. This shit definitely kicks out the jams.

 The album that never was, and which came out posthumously in 1989, is called Cyborgs Revisited. It was put out as an LP to a bit of critical acclaim on tiny Mole Sound records, and was then reissued as an LP/CD a year later by American indie distributor Cargo. It's not a true album per se, in that it consists of a cleaned, top-drawer batch of what remained of the original band's recordings - both demos and live. The first side consists of six remarkable studio recordings from 1974 waxed with engineering/production siblings Bob and Daniel Lanois, the latter having gone on to some notoriety producing international acts of no small repute. Side B is three tracks recorded live on a mall rooftop (!) to a small crowd of surely blindsided shoppers in July '75. Imagine stumbling out of Sears on a summer afternoon, clutching your hot new Dacron slacks or pantsuit jumper, to hear a righteous squall from above and a cool vocalist introducing his band of longhairs as "Heavy metalloid music." Those hardy shoppers were surely lured up the fire escape in time to catch the 10-minute-plus "Illegal Bodies," in which vocalist/guitarist Edgar Breau prophesizes "Unless you've got a body made of metal, they're not gonna allow you to walk the streets. No kidding." Whether, like the oft-repeated cliché about the Velvets, the shopping bag-clutchers each then went out and instantly formed a band is debatable and beside the point. Suffice to say the Hamilton - the Canadian, maybe the North American -- scene never recovered a worthy successor to match this side's intense 20 minutes of sonic overload.

Just who were these feisty young men of the North? Tucked a million figurative miles away from Loggins & Messina, the future members of Simply Saucer were ardent record fiends who in the early '70's were ingesting the Detroit bands, free jazz, space rock and especially the Velvet Underground from their Hamilton homes. Performing secret handshakes and Eno tape trades with a small handful of other like-minded souls could only get one so far though, so being an achiever, Edgar Breau made it his mission to model a band after the far-out music routinely wafting from his turntable. The name was homage to early Syd-era Pink Floyd and their Saucerful of Secrets album, but the sound was so much more. They started out practicing as a six-piece, with a sax player and even some occasional violin, but soon scaled back to a core of four. Ping Romany (Christian name: John LaPlante) brought the band some fantastically cartoony analog synth sounds that would have sounded like a bloopy 1950's Jetsons vision of the 21st century, had Romany not been combining them with other forms of screeching electronics & wild experimentation on audio generator and theremin. The 1 minute, 50 second opener on Cyborgs Revisited is a hard-edged sex-themed rocker for the first 45 seconds called "Instant Pleasure" which immediately switches gears into a totally frantic instrumental rush to the finish line, with an especially strong emphasis on a maelstrom of electronic noise swirling away in the background. Then, POOF - it's over. Song number one, and you're hooked. Breau had the smooth detachment of VU-prime Lou Reed and a vocal delivery that never cracked or trembled - a pure rock star voice all the way. His guitar solos - and these are wild-ass SOLOS in the best sense of the term - reached incredible howling, jagged crescendos that never wanked in the least. The monumental "Illegal Bodies," in particular, is to this band what "Mother Sky" is to Can; an opportunity to deliver an extended-length, mostly instrumental testimonial to their well-deserved place in rock's lineage.

 Along with Breau and Romany, bassist Kevin Cristoff and drummer Neil DeMarchant really lived it, having dropped everything else in life to devote themselves fully to the band. It shows. Though I can't figure out who it is, someone else is keeping a very steady, repetitive guitar line churning through tracks like "Illegal Bodies" that fills in spaces for the controlled burn of Breau's leads - or he's just so goddamn smoking it only sounds like two guitarists. Then there's a moment in "Here Come The Cyborgs Pt. II" where the chugging electric punk-tempoed rhythm of the song quickly slows to a quietly pulsating bass line, then from out of nowhere comes a totally unholy crash of guitar squall, which at first sounds like Romany's keyboards shorting out or the sound of metal scraping metal. This five-second bridge is, to be honest, ridiculously great - so ROCK AND ROLL it's worthy of a hearty laugh. Over the pulsating electronic tone oscillations that follow comes a breathy, repeated incantation from Breau of "Here come the cyborgs... here come the cyborgs.....". No truth to the rumor that copies of Tofler's Future Shock mysteriously spiked at the Jackson Square Mall's Walden Books in July 1975.

 "Dance The Mutation", also on the live side, is where the shadow of the Velvets falls most heavily, from the Lou mannerisms in Breau's vocal delivery to the choppy guitar work. Again, the emphasis is on a future gone amuck, but with a little love & happiness thrown into the mix. On the studio side is "Instant Pleasure," the self-reverential "Electro Rock", and the sneeringly cool Third Reich & Roll anthem "Nazi Apocalypse." Check out these lyrics: "Eva....yeah Eva Braaaaaun....bye bye, honey, babe, so long." Next is an out-of-control instrumental called "Mole Machine" that truly sounds the bell for the ride of the four horsemen, then "Bulletproof Nothing" and a studio version of "Here Come The Cyborgs" (titled "Part 1"). Every one of them is golden, especially "Bulletproof Nothing," which might have been a serious hit had they waited 3-4 years and relocated to the UK. It features little of the sonic amplification of the other five studio numbers, and instead is a hum-able but rocking verse/chorus/verse pop song, with a wink & nod to the MC5 and perhaps even Bowie. To get the sound they wanted out of the Lanois brothers for these numbers, Breau & the band actually carted in Stooges records for the producers and commanded "We need it to sound like this." The entire live side of the LP is recorded directly through Breau's vocal mic, so obviously a Herculean clean-up effort went into making these songs sound as amazing as they do (which are arguably even better than the studio songs). Unfortunately, nobody was listening.

Breau has said in summing up his frustration at the band's lack of following, "We were so isolated... there was no direction, there was no guidance, there was no good criticism of what we were doing. If somebody could've pointed us in a direction we would've taken off, but being here in Hamilton was wasted in a way, because nobody was into the Stooges at all, or Syd Barrett - we were basically playing for ourselves. Y'know it was like I was doing headstands to get a reaction from the crowd." While they gigged around eastern Canada, it's unclear (but doubtful) whether they ever played in the U.S. - or that it would have really made a difference one way or the other. It was 1975, and punk as we know it was only just beginning to slither into dank clubs. This head-against-the-wall routine began to wear thinly on the members of the band, and by 1976, Simply Saucer began undergoing line-up changes, losing both Romany and DeMarchant and began forging a slightly different musical path. Rather than relying on a ferocious wall of electronics, the new band settled for second guitarist Steve "Sparky" Parks of the early Canadian punk-lite band Teenage Head and a similar sound. As the band shuffled through a couple of drummers & added another new member here and there, they were able to scavenge the ability to put out their one and only piece of real-time vinyl, the 1978 "She's a Dog/I Can Change My Mind" 45. I haven't heard this record, but its lack of placement in the collector scum pantheon tells a pretty keen story. Even Breau has said it wasn't particularly representative of the band, and that the 45 somehow reminded Canadian critics of Moby Grape and Big Brother. One can imagine that these were slightly different touchpoints than those that would have greeted - more likely reviled - the gargantuan material that eventually became Cyborgs Revisited.

The band was laid down to rest in 1979. Some members went on to form a unit called The Other One, and Breau continues to this day to play solo and record songs for Canadian compilation LP's. Perhaps a more interesting story is Edgar Breau's foray into electoral politics. An outspoken classic liberal with some pretty heavy conservative leanings - Jane Fonda-bashing being a particular passion, even as late as the 1990's - Breau ran for provincial government in 1999 representing eastern Hamilton, under the flag of the Family Coalition Party of Ontario. The results of the 1999 election had Dominic Agostino of the Liberal Party pulling 17,408 votes, Peter Preston of the New Democrats a very close second with 7,190 votes, and our man Edgar almost pulling a stunning upset with 371 Hamilton residents sharing his vision. No word yet on the rematch, or how many of those 371 owned copies of Cyborgs Revisted. Breau has sired several children and is happily married, and thankfully has not been threatening a Simply Saucer reunion tour.

Finally, props for even keeping the Simply Saucer flame alive must be thrown to Chris Stigliano of Black To Comm magazine (formerly Pfudd!), a rock fanzine journalist who was featuring the Saucer on his covers long before the LP was even issued. I don't know if you want to call his various calls to action the groundswell that got folks to stand up and take notice, but the band could very well be a distant memory for Hamilton mall shoppers & space rock freaks to this day if not for his intervention. A quarter of a century is an awful long time to remain unacquainted with this canonical, far-ahead-of-the-herd rock & roll music.

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