At times, it seems as if this New York band exists solely to fulfill a mission from Guinness — the Book of World Records, that is. But even though God Is My Co-Pilot’s record-of-the-week club shtick can grow a bit tiresome, the material-a mélange of no wave fractiousness, pan-ethnic junketeering and gay themes that incorporate both strident politics and explosive eroticism-has grown dramatically in scope over the years. Yes, GodCo can be dogmatic, but the taintless passion with which masterminds Craig Flanagin and Sharon Topper approach the creative process itself is unassailable.
On the 34-song I Am Not This Body, Topper and Flanagin — augmented by a variety of percussionists — re-create the breathless intensity of densely packed archetypes like Pink Flag, but terse song lengths are hardly the whole story. The album is bursting with dizzying thematic juxtapositions — Topper can intone the gnostic gospel excerpt “Thunder, Perfect Mind” mere moments after purring the lustful fist-fucking celebration “List” — and rife with stylistic shifts that take in angular post-funk (“Angels in the Air”), back-porch country-soul (“Greasy Gizzard”) and even X-styled punk (“Said & Done”). What’s even more impressive is the range of references the band throws into its dada pastiches — songs are sprinkled with quotations from sources as varied as John Donne, Joseph Conrad and Little Anthony and the Imperials (whose “Shimmy Shimmy Ko Ko Bop” spins at the core of “Very Very”). A masterful, multi-layered debut.
It’s worker’s playtime again on How I Got Over, which presents six anarcho-art volleys that resemble a Mayo Thompson-run Romper Room. Figuring out exactly what the band is up to as it ricochets from neo-Sondheim incidental music to Middle Eastern jump rope chants can be a bit like trying to divide seventeen by fire engine red, but the satisfaction elicited from the eventual solution is quite a reward all the same. Gender Is as Gender Does, which furthers both the avant-sexual and avant-noise agendas in songs like “I Hate Girls” and “Submissive,” uses Topper’s throaty purr to carry the ubiquitous libidinous subtext with the ease of a schooled porter. The fan-club-only Pissing and Hooting is a bit more narrowcast into jazz-punk squawking; Elliott Sharp makes a cameo on “Lonesome Elliott.”
Speed Yr Trip, on which the fixed core quintet is augmented by guests like Jad Fair and John Zorn (who blows a mean roadhouse sax on “Lo Mas Sabrosa”), is no less capricious. Slithery second-line New Orleans rhythms (employed on the cutting “Anyone but You”) bleed into formless noise belches (“Fat”) that give way to airy Gallic melodies (“C’Etait une J. Fille”). Topper explores the lesbian libido joyfully on pieces like “They Often Look Fr.,” which, like the overwhelming majority of the band’s originals, was written by Flanagin, to whom she is married. Confusion is sex!
As evidenced by the short sharp songs that dot When This You See Remember Me, Flanagin’s scrabbling (on guitar and bass) is hardly unschooled noise: tracks like “Jackalope Hunting” telescope bits of African high-life and Cage-ian air manipulation into fragments of utter enchantment. The snazzily packaged 10-inch EP Getting Out of Boring Time Biting Into Boring Pie (which includes a workable cardboard model airplane) gathers fourteen blink-and-you-missed-’em stacks o’ fractiousness, ranging from the heated “Starch & Chafe” to a manically splayed rendition of Thelonious Monk’s “Well You Needn’t.” The overly dry My Sinister Hidden Agenda EP quickly flattens out due to a poor balance between medium and message.
Although Straight Not was released on the gay Outpunk label, it’s one of GodCo’s least obviously “out” recordings — in terms of sexuality, that is. There’s no disputing the stylistic adventuring that marks tracks like the Ella Fitzgerald-meets-Wu-Tang scat-hop of “We Signify” (or, for that matter, the giddy naïf-pop stylings of “Girl in a Car Singing Along With the Radio”). Unlike philosophical (and sonic) precursors the Minutemen, the band shows no sign of abandoning the ultra-minimalist aesthetic — even after releasing more than a hundred sub-three minute tunes. Compiled from a handful of performances at New York’s Knitting Factory, the 39-song concert document Tight Like Fist emphasizes the visceral edge sometimes missing in GodCo’s theoretically skewed studio stuff. Topper’s infectiously playful persona comes through vividly on tracks like the skipping rendition of the traditional folk song “Handsome Molly” and “Iko” (a truncated version of “Iko Iko”), while guests come and go, inserting and deleting manifold layers of skronk with every shift.
While This Is No Time to Be Frail! is more intriguing than Sharon Quite Fancies Jo, it too suffers from self-conscious attempts at pushing the stylistic envelope (“Childhood Dreams of Abduction and Mutilation” uses samples of Topper’s voice as both rhythm and melody). Like watching paint dry — on a Jackson Pollock canvas.
In a blatant foretelling of impending slackerdom, How to Be contains a mere 23 songs (including the recorded unveiling of the chugging “Madly They Did Ride,” the band’s first-ever composition) but GodCo connects at better than its usual average. Sexy sonnets like “Kittybait” and “Get In” are unfailingly engaging, even if more political screeds don’t quite cut it. Fans of unabashed scree should take particular note of Siobhan Duffy’s wonderfully unhinged sax playing on tracks such as “Take One.”
God Is My Co-Pilot has long taken part in John Zorn’s Radical Jewish Culture series, which no doubt helped in the conceptualization of Mir Shlufn Nisht, most of which is given over to traditional Hebrew and Yiddish songs. Topper’s facility with the material is pretty extraordinary, and the respectful tone (which includes adherence to the Orthodox directive that the word “God” not be written, thus making the band’s name G-d Is My Co-Pilot) is refreshing indeed. Additionally, the album contains a handful of Finnish-language folk songs — largely gleaned from the repertoire of Värttinä — some of which would be reprised on Ootko Sa Poika Vai Tytto?
Sex Is for Making Babies (sung entirely in English for a change) is one of the most bracing GodCo records, rife as it is with slash-and-burn attacks on conventional sexual mores (see “Sissy Dog” and the ominous “Interrogation”). Since it grew out of jam sessions rather than studio time per se, it’s even looser than usual, as borne out by comparatively sweet-tempered tracks like “Be Nice to Yr. Parents,” but the seat-of-their-pants approach only adds to the intensity.
Puss 02 is the closest thing the band has produced to a party record. Kicking off with the ESG-styled groove “Dance,” the album settles into a zone right at pelvis level, where it remains through songs as varied as the go-go tinged “Pocketful of Sugar” (with an enticing Alex Klein bassline) and the strobing “Jackie 60.” Cameos abound, with the most notable being Boredoms’ drummer Yoshimi P-Wee, who squalls an adorable cover of Growing Up Skipper’s “Teenage Boyfriend.”
The two volumes of The History of Music compile virtually all of God Is My Co-Pilot’s singles and EPs plus a goodly array of previously unreleased material — 85 songs in all.