How blessed are we to have this restive, roiling UK DIY/avant-punk masterpiece - a truly special and coveted record from the godlike trio of Chris Gray (Amos & Sara), Jim Welton and Lepke Buchvalter (under pseudonyms of course: out to Narki Brillans, C.D. Great and Yakko Banovic) restored to vinyl for the first time since its original 300-press in 1983 (an original in decent condition would easily set you back £200+)????. Answer: EXTREMELY BLESSED.
Rarity, however, is this album’s least remarkable feature. The playful, ad hoc, forever-on-the-brink-of-collapse M.O. of the trio’s better known projects - Homosexuals, Amos & Sara, L. Voag, Murphy Federation, Tesco Bombers, Milk From Cheltenham ++++ - is present and correct, but there’s also something brilliantly, malignly hypnotic about Flagellation; a psychedelic menace matched only in this milieu by George Harassment's Masai Sleep Walking. See, I dunno, ALL OF IT, but especially the chain-rattle minimalism of ‘Infiltration’, an ‘Petites Guirlandes’, an incredible piece of atmospheric, super-tactile reggae-concrete that out-manoeuvres General Strike.
As with, say, fellow travellers Officer!, DIY here is not shorthand for amateurism, so much as dogged individualism: the arrangements and playing are often madly sophisticated, at times edging into true Rock-In-Opposition/Recommended Records territory: ‘The Best Thing I Ever Did Was Give Up Smoking’, for instance, effortlessly bridges the gap between Brenda Ray or Vivien Goldman's scruffy, economical post-punk dub and the more high-minded, proggish huffings and puffings of Henry Cow. Like Amos & Sara's Endless Latino, this is also an album in love with GROOVE, casually parodying Ze-style disco-not-disco on the louche ‘Dinner Party’ and nonchalantly funky ‘Nioo Yiirk (The Big Time). The tuff rhythm section and spidery guitar lines are accented with fragments of music-hall piano, but the vibe is less pier-end jocular and more bedsit paranoia, almost Pinter-esque levels of smiling-man intimidation… The title, Flagellation, is apt - even at it’s most larky and chaotic, ESPECIALLY at its most larky and chaotic, there’s a sort of violence driving the whole thing, a satirical rage that feels inwardly, as well as outwardly, directed.
Yes, so, more ideas per minute here than most bands manage in a career, and of course it’s TOO MANY IDEAS - like all the best Homosexuals/It's War Boys-related stuff, Flagellation sounds like it could implode at any moment..but is held together by a sheer, mad, centrifugal force. It's totally unsurprising that the band dissolved after making it, how on earth could they have followed it up?! Just an amazing record that despite our best efforts defies any terrestrial description; the kind that throws into sharp focus the meagre talent, intelligence and daring of today's supposed avant-garde. Where have all the heroes gone????