U.S. Maple – Sang Phat Editor

3 out of 5

Label: Skin Graft

Produced by: Jim O’Rourke

Everything about Sang Phat Editor feels like a challenge. Even procuring the disc was: U.S. Maple’s entire album discography was a pretty easy find in used bins – interpret that however you might – and that held true for SPE as well, but every copy I picked up, amongst multiple stores, had the same issue: the back of the disc was totally ruined by something; it was like a sticker had been applied to it – perhaps some heat damage from the sticker insert? It was like one bad batch of these was sold to all the record shops I’d hit in New York, and I was cursed to not be able to listen to the record… until, y’know, I started gobbling up things online instead of exclusively shopping in used bins. By dint of this hunt, it was the, chronologically, the last U.S. Maple album I’d buy, meaning it had some personal notoriety built up.

All of the band’s artwork is a tad off-kilter, but the garish camo look of this one – and its blue plastic case, and that sticker – just made it look / seem oblique; like: we don’t want you to listen to this.

And then there’s the sound of Sang itself, which is undeniably the deconstructed rock of U.S. Maple, but taken to its utter extreme. Riffs hardly trickle into existence; drums skitter mindlessly; Al Johnson’s rasp is as raspy as ever, but it’s not done in his unleashed style. The performance is at a distance.

Later albums (like Acre Thrills) would bring back this extreme disparateness, but would mix it with songs. SPE’s first half does rock in moments, rewardingly so, but I think it takes several spins to even appreciate that, and the stuff after the midway point (marked by a tinkling, gentle instrumental) is some of the most beatless stuff USM ever recorded.

It’s definitely the album I return to the least, though that hardly makes Sang Phat Editor without value. It’s just a challenge, boiling the group’s music down to its base un-rhythmic principles, offering up flashes of grooves that encourage further exploration, even if the “reward” for that is a strange-ass landscape of sound.