Lee Curtiss – Lunatic Fringe EP
“A poem is a city filled with streets and sewers…filled with banality and booze.” So wrote the drunken, hard-partying, cult-hero Charles Bukowski more than forty years ago. Replace ‘poem’ with ‘track’ and you have an apt characterization of ‘Lunatic Fringe’, the long-awaited release from Visionquest’s own Lee Curtiss, purveyor of sonically sophisticated sleaze.
Expanding a sound cultivated over the years in a series of releases for pivotal labels such as Spectral, Get Physical, Supplement Facts, and Wolf & Lamb, in Lunatic Fringe Curtiss delivers up what can only be described as three dance floor monsters that will push the limits of the best sound systems the world over. Yet just like Bukowski’s gritty documents of his own gloriously fractured life, Curtiss’s mastery of his artistic craft brings the tracks on this EP to a level of aural poetry rarely heard throughout the reverberating walls of clubland.
A recent fixture of Lee’s celebrated live and DJ sets at DC-10 and other legendary venues the world over, the EP’s A-side finally makes available ‘Body Twitch’. Rife with not-so- veiled sexual innuendo, at one point a sinister, reverb-drenched voice brags (with a seemingly breathless bravado), “I can make your body twitch/I’ll be working like we’re making kids.” Combined with Curtiss’s signature skulking stalker-bass lines, ‘Body Twitch’ does its fair share of reveling in “streets and sewers…banality and booze.” But a careful listen reveals a staggering level of musical complexity surging below the self- consciously simple-minded vocals. Eschewing the easy pleasures of the obvious melodic line, Curtiss builds elements of melody into every dimension of the track’s atmosphere, layer, and texture. At the same time, chugging percussion and the carefully modulated growl of vintage synths create a remarkable musical depth of field. Taken as a whole, ‘Body Twitch’ is equal-parts DJ Deeon and Phil Spector, an entirely inimitable Curtiss combination which has earned ‘Lunatic Fringe’ a much-coveted “Parental Advisory” warning. Not since INXS (or R. Kelly) have the inner recesses of the male psyche been plumbed with such abandon.
The EP’s B-side features two tracks, ‘Freaks’ and ‘Haters’, both of which revisit themes from some of Curtiss’s earlier work. ‘Freaks’ begins with thick synth chords and a slowed down, lackadaisical shuffle reminiscent of his breakout hit ‘Sexy Dancer’. For those suffering from synesthesia, ‘Freaks’ will be an unending hot flash of neon. But underlying these familiar in-your-face elements are a whole array of softer percussive patterns and almost elegiac snippets of sound that snicker back at the track itself. Disaffection with one’s own mastery? The mark of a true musician.
Like ‘Candy’, last year’s collaboration with Matt Tolfrey, the EP’s final track ‘Haters’ evokes the acidleanings of Chicago house. ‘Haters’ seamlessly integrates Curtiss’s dance floor sensibility with his earlier roots in techno-psychedelia. Underpinning a classic hip-hop taunt (“all the haters in the house/if you see ‘em point ‘em out”) is the ever-morphing swirl of a vintage Jupiter-8. This is a wicked, dizzying, merry-go-round of an anthem…or, perhaps, a poem after all.