Luke Sutherland was frontman to two bands that touched on post rock, trip hop, drum and bass, and spoken word throughout the musical and cultural tumult of the ’90s, that temporary reprieve from the degeneration of all things cultural at the end of the ’80s. He’s also, I’m just learning tonight, a thrice-published novelist.
My first exposure to Sutherland’s work was when I stumbled onto his Too Pure label band Bows back in college at the short-lived local franchise of Co-Op Records on Main Street, Normal. The former skater dude running the place was going out of his way to recommend everything he could to a really square guy who didn’t know much more than that he sincerely wanted to know about good music. It was this same store owner- it may have even been in the same week or on the same visit- who, after I let on that I was into Porthishead, introduced me to Morcheeba and Monk & Canatella. I remember distinctly, as he handed me a copy of ’99’s Blush, he was very excited Bows was fronted by former Long Fin Killie frontman Luke Sutherland. I remember hearing that bit of background information, I remember acting like I knew what he was talking about, and I remember buying the CD trying not to let on that I didn’t. I took the CD out of the store with me, stared at its translucent paper cover art with its ghostly images of wings and words floating up from the pages behind, and I popped it into the discman in my reliable used Mustang (white). I tried to get into for a couple of weeks as I drove around and did whatever it was that I did in that shitty breeding pit of mononucleosis and meningitis that is a state diploma farm.
I failed in that task. The acquisition of a taste for Bows’ first record, that is. I could tell there was something new happening there, but I was still emerging from that GULAG of aesthetics that kids raised on a choice between ’70s classic rock and top 40 radio are born into in America. I had worked my way through the Industrial sound spectrum, but like most of the populace of our young and frighteningly dangerous country, I was still grasping at subtlety. I had not yet fully made the cognitive leap that allowed me to appreciate the difference between strength of feeling and depth of emotion.
And, shit, I might as well say it- Blush had something on there that sounded like harps. Too many harps. Not mouth harps. Actual harps. In retrospect there could only have been one or two songs on that album that had the offensive musical instrument on it, with the larger share of others being quite awesome in their own right. What can I say? In a purge it was one of the discs I sold in college. Blush, it pains me to this day, but I was scared and I pushed you away. Only in the last year was I able to locate a physical copy of a single from that album, “Big Wings”, at a used record store outside of D.C. (where I also got a copy of Evil Mothers’ Spider Sex and Car Wrecks), but, wouldn’t you know it? It’s the one with the harps on it.
Push forward to 2001 and I encounter Bows’ 2nd disc, Cassidy, at a mall record store in Japan. This disc goes on to be one of my favorite records of all time, still in heavy rotation to this day. It plays as icy clear to the ear with its sparse arpeggios and subsonic D&B breaks, its ecstatic and soaring aspirated vox, as mentholated smelling salts might to the sinuses. Even so, though Luke Sutherland’s and Long Fin Killie’s name have been ready in my memory since that day the store owner handed me a copy of Blush, and though I have almost bleached the ones and zeroes off the Cassidy disc with almost 10 years of continued exposure to laser light and overplay, to say nothing of the condition of the ones and zeroes fixed electrostatically to the digital media I’m using now, I never once thought to look back and give a listen to Sutherland’s previous project, Long Fin Killie.
And then this past week.
I found a Long Fin Killie record posted on an already disappeared web site (what up, internet? The gold is just up and walking out of your mine) and I give it a listen. It was their 1995 debut, Houdini. I don’t think I would have been into this stuff if I had heard it at the end of the ’90s when I needed big, unsubtle electronics in everything, but I like it now. Long Fin Killie is Drum ‘n Bass without but the occasional added flourish of anything synthetic. It’s clean amplifier bass-heavy Post Rock. It’s punctuating squalls of tasty distortion. Three albums, all named for figures who made a tragic exit (Houdini, Too Pure 1995, Amelia, Too Pure 1996, Valentino, Too Pure 1998). Listening to the strummed bass on some of these songs reminds me of Pinback. I wonder if those guys were big Long Fin Killie fans before acquiring their own fanbase.
Have a listen: