Responding to the predominance of noisemongers on the New York downtown hipster scene, hardcore-booster-DJ-rock critic-turned-Glenn Branca sideman Tim Sommer took a turn for the ethereally haunting and formed Hugo Largo: two bassists, an electric violinist and indescribable vocalist Mimi Goese. Drum, a sublime seven-song mini-album produced in part by Michael Stipe, builds a remarkable bridge between new age airiness and sturdy new wave experimentation. While Goese’s voice dives and glides as if airborne, the three instruments (plus a touch of guitar) play at a measured tempo that belies their power; lyrics are diverted into evocative, mesmerizing sounds. Although the originals are substantially engaging, an almost unrecognizable rendition of Ray Davies’ “Fancy” provides the album’s most beautiful highlight. (The 1988 reissue on Brian Eno’s label is remixed and contains two additional tracks.)
With violinist Hahn Rowe stepping forward as chief producer, Mettle has a clearer, more vibrant sound. As the group serves up memorable melodies on pieces like “Turtle Song” and “Hot Day,” Goese executes daring vocal feats. Like the debut, Mettle builds to a dramatic climax near the end with “Nevermind.” After Hugo Largo played its last gig in the summer of 1989, the foursome scattered into assorted projects and careers, although a new incarnation of the group surfaced two years later.
By the time Sommer formed Hi-Fi Sky in New Orleans with Alexandra Scott the better part of two decades later, he had done a variety of things in and around the music industry, including journalism, television, record production and an executive stint at Atlantic Records, during which he signed and developed Hootie and the Blowfish. For all that, the onetime punk radio show host ‘s new band is, in principle at least, not that different from his old one. To paraphrase Tom Purdue, it takes a tender man to make such gentle music, and Sommer is clearly skilled at unwinding the spring clock of rock until it elevates of its own accord. Music for Synchronized Swimming in Space consists of gently moving clock-speed instrumentals coated with Scott’s wispy singing, which is more often vocalese than lyrical. Informed by the formalism and purpose of German sound pioneers NEU!, the album is lovely and moving (aural wallpaper this isn’t), as strings and keyboards are applied as delicately (and naturally) as an Impressionist painting.