It had to be 23, didn’t it? The 23 mythos has plagued me for more than 23 years after I first encountered it via William S. Burrough’ writings. And here we have Bushpilot’s 23 released on 23rd September. It may not be 2023, but given how times has been warping lately, it may be and I just haven’t realised.
The band, who were active for just three years in the mid-90s, recording a brace of albums – both unreleased – as part of a three-album deal and having one of their two singles played on John Peel ‘before disbanding and heading off in different directions’ bypassed me – and probably many others – at the time. According to a recent interview, they only played around ten shows, with a couple of trips to London and the rest in small club and pub venues in their native Leeds.
The first of those two albums, Already!, finally saw the light of day in March, after languishing a whole twenty-six years since its recording, and now it’s finally joined by their 1995 follow-up album that’s considered by those in the know as their magnum opus, showcasing their influences of Can, Slint, and Talk Talk. Admittedly, I don’t hear much Talk Talk here, but I do hear so much else.
Moreover, it blends classic Krautrock with a quintessential Leeds vibe, that outsider sound that can be traced back via a lineage that reaches to the post-punk products of the late 70s, while also demonstrating an obtuseness and angularity that’s about as far from listener-friendly as you can get. And if Bushpilot sit in the bracket of also-rans, then the career paths of the likes of Bilge Pump – formed 1994, but not releasing anything until some 20 years later) are also worth noting (and there are sonic comparisons to be made to their local contemporaries too).
23 defines ‘no compromise’, and it’s immediately clear why Bushpilot would have appealed to John Peel, but maybe only about 30 other people on the planet. And 23 isn’t conventional in its structure by any means, with five meandering math/kraut mash-ups occupying side one, and the nineteen-minute title track filling side two on its own.
The first track, ‘I Have the Egg’ brings the scratchy noise to the max: the guitars are part Gang of Four, part Fall, with shouty vocals and a totally off-kilter vibe. Put it all together and Trumans Water is probably the lo-fi noisy benchmark and a just comparison, both in terms of sound and (un)production.
Following on, ‘Caught in a Memory of Love’ is jerky, jolting, and ultimately an amalgamation of 90s noise rock and The Fall circa 1981. The repetition of the riffery is draining and exhilarating in equal measure, and ‘Andy Warhol’s Dream’ is an insistent piece that strives toward something a bit classic in context.
’23’ is a sprawling mess of discord, Bushpilot’s response to ‘Hip Priest’ stretched and strung out into a mathy meandering melange of Pavement, Fugazi, and Shellac. An while so many bands who fail to achieve the heights they aspire to say that it was because they were ahead of their time, with Bushpilot, it’s true. The world simply wasn’t ready – but maybe it is now.