The bizarre lost art-punk of Inflatable Boy Clams

It’s really easy to get me to wax rhapsodic about my years in college radio, and I enthusiastically recommend the experience to anyone who has the chance to get involved. Being 18 in the ‘80s with access to a massive record library full of choice obscurities, and immersion in a milieu that encouraged discovery and exchange was probably the single best possible place I could have spent my formative years as a lover of weirdomusic. There are lots of brilliant things I unearthed or got tipped-off to back then that have stuck with me forever, but the recording I want to talk about today is a self-titled 2X7” by Inflatable Boy Clams, a wonderful but largely lost all-female art-punk band hailing from early-80s San Francisco.

I can’t remember exactly who hipped me to them. It might have even been the DJ who was training me to take an airshift, but whoever it was, he noticed the acutely weird stack of records I was previewing—I was growing interested in art-noise and outsider music at a time when the left of the dial was chiefly populated with legions of REM and Replacements me-toos, thankfully WRUW had and has a much more diverse ethos—and did a “Hey, if you’re into THAT stuff, you should check THIS out!” and handed me that Boy Clams EP. I fell instantly in love with “Skeletons,” a genuinely creepy bit of minimalist freak-funk that came off like an anxiety-disordered attempt to play a Tuxedomoon song, with sparse bass, sax, and keyboard lines undulating over barely-extant drums, and vocals that sounded like a little kid trying to sing like the Residents.


I have literally never seen another copy of that record in real life. It got one pressing on Subterranean Records, and that was that, certainly no CD reissue. When copies turn up for sale online, the asking price typically hovers around or above $50, a price I balk at for double ALBUMS, let alone double seven-inchers. (Someone please wake me when the goddamn vinyl bubble bursts.) But a fan site has kept the band’s memory alive, and thanks to the marvelous reissue label Superior Viaduct, I will have my hands on the record soon! They’re releasing it anew in January, in its original 2X7” form, from the original master tapes, and for a good bit less than $50.

Eventually, I would learn that Inflatable Boy Clams was formed by ex-members of the fantastic New/No Wavers Pink Section (also being reissued by S.V., it merits mentioning), and that “Skeletons” was a Halloween staple on Rodney Bingenheimer’s radio show, but at the time, I was just mesmerized by the Boy Clams’ strange dirge/spoken-word piece “I’m Sorry,” a twisted and hilarious recitation of half-assed apologies for treating friends really shabbily.

Posted by Ron Kretsch
10:36 am
Residents reissue features never before seen photos of their early studio. We’ve got a few of them.
11:41 am

Superior Viaduct, the excellent archivist label from whom you got your copies of Hardcore Devo Volume 1 and Volume 2—you DID pick those up, right?—is taking pre-orders for their forthcoming 2xLP rerelease of 1984’s Residue of the Residents, the compilation of outtakes and rarities that housed Residents essentials like “Shut Up! Shut Up!,” “Diskomo,” and their cover of “Jailhouse Rock”. The track listing encompasses both the original release and the long list of bonus songs included in the 1998 CD version Residue Deux, and the package will also feature a fine treat for the übergeeks: a number of never before seen photographs from the group’s first studio in San Francisco, the laboratory/sanctum where the early “Santa Dog” 2x7” (also being reissued by Viaduct next month) and their albums Meet The Residents and Third Reich ‘n’ Roll were recorded. Their early films were shot there, as well.

For the Residents in the early ‘70s, a dedicated, personal studio was no mere luxury, it was integral to the group’s concept and identity. It’s not just that it offered them the ability to maintain their tightly guarded anonymity, and it’s not just about the obvious creative and commercial freedoms that come with ownership of the means of cultural production. It’s that the Residents were intrinsically studio creatures in a way that was almost entirely novel in that era. I quote here from Chris Cutler’s insightful essay in his essential File Under Popular (and I’m putting out the call here for all to see, to whoever I lent my copy of that book—give it back, dammit):

The Residents belong to the story of the investigation of what is productively unique in the medium of recording. They came, not as composers or performers seeking to extend their skills, but as artists, in a crucial sense musically unattached but able to see—indeed fascinated by—the largely ignored potential of the new technology. The Residents were a group born, educated and nourished in the recording studio. And not unconsciously; it was because they quickly recognized what a studio was and how it could be used to compose, construct and carry from conception to completion soundworks that had little or nothing to do with played music that, at the first opportunity, they built their own. It was this insight that gave birth to ‘The Residents,’ and it is an indispensable key to the understanding of their work.

So yeah, dear reader, the Residents are important for reasons that have nothing to do with eyeball masks. They were amid the front guard of a drastic values shift that, among other positive outcomes, cleared a path for the likes of Devo.



Astute readers who also happen to be Residents fans going back a ways may recognize that last shot. That set was used both in their abandoned film project Vileness Fats and in the intro to their video for Third Reich and Roll.

Whatever Happened to Vileness Fats?, part 1

Third Reich and Roll

Superior Viaduct on DM previously and previouslier

Posted by Ron Kretsch
11:41 am
Sonic Youth, Stereolab & Jarvis Cocker love her: America meet artsy French singer Brigitte Fontaine

Although I’ve long been aware of Brigitte Fontaine, it was more like I’d read about her but never really heard her actual music. I was curious, but it was never put right there in front of me. This was remedied yesterday as I was running errands and listening to her album, Comme à la radio, which came in the post via Superior Viaduct, the San Francisco-based record label that specializes in high quality reissues on vinyl and CD of unusual artists (like Tuxedomoon, Glaxo Babies, Monitor, etc).

Comme à la radio hit me like a bolt from the blue. I was truly astounded. As in the “WOW, you’ve got to be fucking kidding me”/grinning from ear to ear type of payoff that a music snob gets when he or she hears something fucking amazing for the first time. There’s nothing like that hit and I got it from Comme à la radio in a big way driving around Los Angeles yesterday.

In France, Brigitte Fontaine is a deeply respected artist—a singer, actress, novelist—who has worked in the public eye for decades and changed styles many times along the way, from an initially poppy chanson sound to more of a modern Bjork-like thing she’s been up to in recent years (I’ve been giving myself a crash course in Brigitte Fontaine. Much to explore on YouTube). Post-May ‘68, she began to restlessly explore more avant-garde sounds and recorded two superb albums back to back: Brigitte Fontaine Est… Folle (“Brigitte Fontaine is crazy”) with Serge Gainsbourg’s arranger Jean-Claude Vannier and Comme à la radio recorded with members of The Art Ensemble of Chicago and her longtime collaborator and husband, Areski. Both come out on LP and CD next week from Superior Viaduct for the first time ever in America.

Brigitte Fontaine Est… Folle is a quirky, special album that all fans of Histoire de Melody Nelson must hear. It’s got a certain cabaret theatricality and dark humor whimsy that makes it very unique. I am a huge fan of Jean-Claude Vannier, so hearing Brigitte Fontaine est… Folle was indeed a great pleasure, but it didn’t prepare me for Comme à la radio which is one of the most far out things I’ve ever heard. It’s a fucking masterpiece, make no mistake about it. The album in various places (and even in the same song) brings to mind everything from Flowers of Romance-era Public Image Ltd. (I’m being quite serious) or later Can to The Master Musicians of Joujouka. Because she does a lot of “talk singing” and whispery spoken word en France the Serge comparison is difficult to avoid as well. (Comme à la radio stands up to the best of even his work. It’s that good. On that level.)

But The Art Ensemble of Chicago!?! To employ their unique talents to realize her bohemian Beatnik musical vision—a kind of wild, arrhythmic, Arabic free jazz—was a stroke of genius and fortuitous right time/right place luck—The Art Ensemble of Chicago and Fontaine were performing at venues across the street from one another in 1969 and decided to do a number of shows together in 1969 and 1970. That this album exists is nothing short of a minor miracle. There’s nothing else like it. Nothing I can think of.

At this point, I need to stop typing and you need to hit play on Comme à la radio‘s magnificent 8-minute-long title track. Turn it up loud.

If that didn’t move you, I can’t do anything else for ya.

“L’ Homme Objet” (about a “boy toy”) from Brigitte Fontaine est… Folle

Here’s a video—I love the way they shot this—of Fontaine, Areski and The Art Ensemble of Chicago performing Comme à la radio‘s “L’été l’été” in 1970:

Previously on Dangerous Minds:
Avant psychedelia: The Art Ensemble of Chicago show up in French hippie movie ‘Les Stances A Sophie’

Posted by Richard Metzger
04:01 pm