Flesh World were born out of a shared appreciation of Lou Reed, drag bars and underground punk shows. They’re of course a long way from the first band to take an interest in drag culture, one obvious example being Lou Reed himself, with probably his most famous track.
Walk On The Wildside was a story song, a collection of real-life characters from Andy Warhol’s factory scene. Recollections of drag queens, Candy Darling, allegedly also the inspiration for The Kinks’ track Lola, who, “never lost her head even when she was giving head” of Holly Woodlawn, who “shaved her legs and then he was a she”, and of Jackie Curtis, her obsession with James Dean and the drug addiction that would eventually kill her. Lou’s fondness for these characters, for this world was clear.
Lou of course isn’t the only musician who’s taken an interest in drag culture. Take, for instance, Magnetic Fields’ excellent track Andrew In Drag, sample lyric, “I’ve always been a ladies man, but I’ve become a mama’s boy for Andrew In Drag. I’d sign away my trust fund, I’d even sell the Jag, if I could spend my misspent youth with Andrew in Drag.” The Kinks perhaps most famously sang about Lola, they also sang about a “chick called Dick” on Out Of The Wardrobe, which in hindsight with lyrics like, “he’s not a dandy, he’s only living out a fantasy” probably isn’t all that tasteful even if it was well intentioned.
David Bowie famously pushed boundaries between gay and straight, male and female, but on Queen Bitch, he got rather bitter at a drag queen stealing away the apple of his eye. In typical Bowie style, it’s rather hard to tell just what he’s getting at, but it would appear he felt he could make a far more convincing queen than the, “old time ambassador of sweet-talking, night walking games”, “in her satin and tat.”
Courtesy of Ru-Paul’s Drag Race, queens might be more keenly associated with Miley Cyrus and The Pussy Cat Dolls than David Bowie and Lou Reed, but the influence of drag culture on Musical History and vice-versa is probably still being mapped out in a grimy-bar in San Francisco somewhere, and Lou Reed’s probably delighted about that.
Flesh World began as a collaboration between Scott Moore of Limp Wrist and Jess Scott of Brilliant Colors. The band have since been fleshed out by Diane Anastasio on drums and Andrew Luttrell on bass.
The band deal in simple rhythmic drumming, a result of a minimal kit, a broken foot and a small recording space, buzz-saw guitars, low rumbling bass and a vocal somewhere between Siouxie Sioux and a yelping Patti Smith. They incorporate elements of post-punk, shoegaze and indie-pop into their distinctly noisy mix. Imagine Black Tambourine’s urgency with the pop dialed down, or Perfect Pussy swapping their anger for something more morose
Flesh World formed in the Panhandle district of San Francisco. The Panhandle is located in Haight-Ashbury and takes it’s name because of it’s narrow shape and how it interacts with Golden Gate Park forming the shape of a handle to Golden Gate’s pan. Haight-Ashbury, or Hashbury as Hunter S.Thompson called it in an article for The New York Times is known as the site of the origin of hippie subculture. Unsurprisingly, it has quite the tie in with music, in particular psychedelic rock, and the likes of Jefferson Airplane, The Grateful Dead and Janis Joplin all lived in the area. The Summer Of Love and popularity of the hippie lifestyle saw a huge influx of people to the area, with the rather sad side affect that it became synonymous with homelessness and lawlessness. However the area has since gone through something of a cultural renaissance and become popular once more.
The band first emerged back in 2013, the result apparently of a chance meeting at a hairdressers. They released their self-titled debut mini-album on La Vida Es Un Mus at the back end of 2013. Their debut full-length album The Wild Animals In My Life came out earlier this year on Iron Lung Records.
On paper, a collaboration between a jangling, lo-fi indie-popper and a man who claimed his band put the core back in queer-core isn’t perhaps the most obvious coming together of musical minds. However it seems to have given both Jess and Scott a new found freedom to experiment, allowing them to explore a huge variety of influences and move their music closer to the direction of the other without loosing what makes them so unique in the first place.
Recorded in just a week due to time and money constraints, The Wild Animals In My Life is instantly injected with a sense of urgency; whether a deliberate decision or a result of its rapid conception, it’s an excellent fit. Your Love Is Like A House, with it’s echoing vocals and frenetic backing is somewhere between a less-polished Savages and a more gothic version of Literature. Shaved Head is all jarring guitar lines, pounding primal punk drums and shoegaze like production, the vocals almost lost in the waves of swirling atmopsherics. Just To Tear Me Down showcases the jangling guitars of Jess’ other band, Brilliant Colours, which cut through the swamp of sound with crystalline shards of beautiful melody.
The title track, The Wild Animals In My Life starts off like Alvvays but gives way to some gloomy bass as it becomes very late-1970’s British, and none the worse for that. In closing track, Here In The Dark they embrace their more noisy and dirgy tendencies, the spectre of Ian Curtis hangs over the noisy darkness. Jess sings, “your chains they are futile” before becoming lost to the cacophonous noise, all fizzing guitar riffs, processed drum beats, and blurring electronics. The pure noise engulfing all sense of melody into something thrillingly raw, the whole thing wonderfully unpleasant- the sort of thing that’s normally saved for extended live versions- yet recorded here, and remarkably the sense of excitement and energy remain. Whilst different sonic territory, the grubby, loud, darkness of the album somehow brings to mind The Twilight Sad: two different approaches to the same emotional journey.
Hidden away in the midst of all the darkness is the rarest glimpse of sunlight, a momentary escape from the gloom in the form of Poolside Boys. Written after being inspired by a David Hockney exhibition, it retains the noisy, scuzz on show elsewhere but seems brighter, poppier, as if to say there is something here worth living for. There’s something of the Jesus & Mary Chain’s jangling-noise pop, which aptly was one of the first bands the pair bonded over.
Fans of Brilliant Colours might find this too dense and downbeat; fans of Limp Wrist might think it’s a little po-faced and serious. For many people it maybe a little intense and melancholic, but we think it’s rather wonderful, and if you don’t mind the darker side of music you may well agree.
The Wild Animals In My Life is out now on Iron Lung. Flesh World play a full UK tour in September.