Voice Farm

  • Voice Farm
  • The World We Live In (Optional) 1982 
  • Voice Farm (Ralph) 1987 
  • Bigger Cooler Weirder (Morgan Creek) 1991 
  • Longshoremen
  • Grr Huh Yeah (Subterranean) 1985 
  • Walk the Plank (Subterranean) 1986 

On The World We Live In, San Francisco’s Voice Farm was a trio — two guys who appear on the front cover dressed only in their underpants, and a less-exposed female — employing synthesizers, vocals and acoustic percussion to weave moody instrumentals, some of which are paired with incisive, intelligent (and, in one case, horrifying) lyrics. The band’s dynamic range, from hauntingly beautiful to startlingly intense, and stylistic variety — encompassing movie-music vagueness, machine noise and disco bump, as well as direct song forms — surpasses many other all-electronic bands, and makes this a totally fascinating album with nary a dull moment. Producer David Kahne did his usual ace job, and whoever thought of covering the Jaynetts’ venerable “Sally Go Round the Roses” also deserves a compliment.

The radically different Voice Farm finds the group reduced to its core: Charly Brown (vocals/keyboards) and Myke Reilly (keyboards/percussion/voices). Aided by an assortment of backing singers and a guitarist, the two are firmly in vocal/song mode, pairing their rhythmic sonic adventures with witty, pointedly satirical lyrics about intriguingly offbeat modern subjects. (A relatively straight cover of the Supremes’ “Nowhere to Run” doesn’t add anything to the song or the record.) The accomplished assemblages overlay the dance beats with synthesized effects, found sounds, spoken-word tape manipulation and other ear-catching ephemera for a diverting album that has more club-play potential than home turntable longevity.

Bigger Cooler Weirder is a killer mix of dance-friendly rhythms, strong melodies and lyrics that address romance from a mature, adult viewpoint. “Free Love,” a funky anthem that sounds like a commercial for bohemian abandon, did well in the clubs, but “Johnny Belinda,” an ironic take on the ’60s girl-group sound, failed to live up to its commercial potential. In the end, Morgan Creek didn’t have the promotional muscle or club savvy to help the band reach a wider pop market.

Reilly and Brown co-produced and played on the second album by the Longshoremen, a cryptic San Francisco poetry-damage vocal trio. Where the amateurish and poorly recorded Grr Huh Yeah has too much distracting music for easy appeal, the Voice Farmers keep instrumental accompaniment tastefully understated on Walk the Plank, providing the group with a clear, solid platform for its theatrically chanted spoken-word weirdness.

[Ira Robbins / j. poet]