Bügsküll’s progression from clumsy yet endearing indie-pop to puzzling electronic experimentation is quite amazing, but the seeds were there from the very beginning. Originating with the home recording efforts of Portland, Oregon singer/guitarist/organist Sean Byrne, Bügsküll followed a bunch of cassette releases with a three-song 10-inch. While it strays too close to the legions of Pavement and Galaxie 500 pretenders common at the time, it does manage to transcend these influences and stand as an unchallenging, yet thoroughly enjoyable, introduction.
Phantasies and Senseitions brings Bugskull (the umlauts didn’t last) beyond the realm of indie rock to embrace Brian Eno and Residents’ twisted take on pop music. Songs like “Concave Life” and “Almost Blue” are pop, but distorted and refracted through funhouse mirrors and prisms. It’s clear that Bugskull is preparing to stretch its awkward wings and fly away somewhere.
Bugskull not only flew off into the distance, but left the goddamn planet with their next release. Keep all the electronic noodling, tape loops and absurd humor from the group’s previous work, and toss away all the structure and songcraft that formerly came with it, and that’s Crock. Hallucinogenic and bizarre, Crock sounds like nothing else released that year.
Snakland sounds like a bunch of friends sitting around getting high in a basement while attempting to craft psychedelic epic with cheap keyboards and a sampler. It’s a disappointment, to be sure, but a retarded charm still shines through. These ramshackle songs sound held together by only a wad of gum and a prayer, but gems like “From the Skies” suggest a Magical Mystery Tour for the ’90s.
Pretty much pared back down to Byrne, Bugskull made Distracted Snowflake Volume One, supposedly the story of a small spotted gnome named Clearance Sale as she searches for the ocean. Byrne must have become enamored with current developments in electronica, since some of the backing tracks wouldn’t sound out of place on an Autechre album. Bugskull may continue to incorporate new influences into its mix, but the group still exists in its own little universe.