Sign up for our free newsletter
Formed in 1991, the Scottish quartet Long Fin Killie has its foundations in the Kraut-rock of Can, but other influences are apparent on its magical debut, Houdini, including the clanging, angular punk of the Fall and Gang of Four. The group uses dense polyrhythms to propel compositions ranging from the minimalist dub of “(A) Man Ray” to the instrumental pastorale of “Montgomery” to the hyperactive, polyphonic rock of “Love Smothers Allergy.” Luke Sutherland, who also plays guitar, saxophone, and violin, sings in a voice that slips between the high-pitched whisper of A.R. Kane’s Rudy Tambala and the confrontational chant of the Fall’s Mark E. Smith (whose unmistakable vocals are featured at the end of “The Heads of Dead Surfers”). The band describes “Surfers” as “Medieval Hip-hop and jazz chaos clarify[ing] the origins of the Renaissance. Total virility. Totally beach boy. Great radio.” Which is only as enigmatic as Sutherland’s lyrics—a mixture of political diatribes and dadaist cut-ups. On several songs he coyly entertains notions of homosexuality: “Lamberton Lamplighter” is a tale of a perhaps overdedicated worker who lights the fires of street lamps. Sutherland sings “Haven’t really got time for girls/Don’t get me wrong now/It’s just that my nights are occupied with lighting/these damn lamps/and night’s a time for courting girls/isn’t it?” He explains that he’s been propositioned by women but admits “I’m not that kind of guy,” preferring the wit, charm, and conversation of men. “Flower Carrier” asks whether bisexuals have the best of both worlds, while on “Corngold” Sutherland avows “I’m allergic to lipstick,” only to repeat the line amidst the violin and dulcimer of “Idiot Hormone.” The baroque settings for Sutherland’s oblique musings are impressively diverse: “Homo Erectus” ‘s guitar arpeggios unspool at a speed normally heard only in bluegrass; “Rockethead on Mandatory Surveillance” sports My Bloody Valentine-style tremolo-bathed, pitch-bent guitar atop a foundation of thick African rhythms; and “Flower Carrier” shifts propulsively from speed metal to deep funk.