To call Pat Fish the best British songwriter of the past fifteen years is an invitation for some awfully suspicious stares. Pat who? But he might be just that. Known since the early 1980s as the Jazz Butcher, Fish remained detached enough to avoid the indie-rock vortex of the last decade, dooming himself to obscurity while leaving behind one of the most valuable buried treasures in all of alternative music.
Fish has joined with an all-new cast to form Sumosonic. In what may be a disappointment to long-time Jazz Butcher fans (they're out there), this inaugural disk is decidedly un-Butcheresque, with a keyboard-heavy attack of quasi-techno rhythms. Pat was known to dabble in reverb and noise, but the results were moody, melancholy textures, quite unlike the flash of This is Sumo.
Never quite dance music, the tight compositions and good-natured feistiness are a bit too mischievous for outright club-fare. Consider the tongue-in- cheek ferocity of 'Monks of Kung Fu,' (which some might liken to the Butcher's 'Do the Bubonic Plague,') with its melodic grunting and hilarious Chinese sampling. At times, like on the gentle 'Cat's Life,' it's reminiscent of New Order-style synth-pop, with dreamy, entrancing swirls set to a pulse- quickening backbeat. The snappy chorus of 'Come Friendly Spacemen' will have you wearing out the repeat button, as will the balmy spells of 'Stupid,' and 'Destroy All Monsters' which are at once energetic and disarmingly sweet. The syrupy 'Sputnik,' meanwhile, is the prettiest thing we've heard since 1993's 'Whaddya?' Fish is no less graceful with keyboards and effects than he was with acoustic guitar.
Considering Pat's long and productive past, it's hard to judge This is Sumo as a true 'debut'. But let's not get caught on Sumo-semantics. No matter his band-mates or current moniker, the man still has genius to share.
- copyright 1997 patrick smith