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Bliss Repair's Stephen Sheehan, left, and Eric Rea

Bliss Repair : This is Unreality

 
story by tim mcmahan


 

 

Lazy-i: May 16, 2002

 

Bliss Repair music is anti-techno. With its lumbering beats, hippy-man bass lines, fuzzy-distorto guitars and synths, and myriad of '60s-era cult-reference samples, loops and sound effects, the duo's debut CD, Lo-fi Enlightenment, is nothing less than a stoner rock answer to Moby. And I haven't even touched on the blotter-acid-inspired spoken-word lyrics yet. Most listeners, especially those of the TRL / commercial radio variety, will find the whole thing downright weird and slightly unseemly.

The project definitely was created with the shag-rug headphones-nation at heart -- and I'm talking about those big, Panasonic headphones with ear cups that look like silver L'egg pantyhose containers (and if you don't get that reference, you're way too young). The target audience appears to be guys who used to live in their parents' basements until they were 30, probably owned (or still own) a black light bulb, have dabbled in alternative religions, are really into obscure sound-effects recordings and would have had the largest collection of rare records in the world if they hadn't blown all their money on pot.

The effect of the multi-layered mono recording is pure nostalgia, but the impact of this anti-techno approach is strangely modern if only for its complete cold-shouldering of today's hyper-bpm, Ecstasy-fueled, rave/dance/electronica music.



 

 

 

Bliss Repair consists of St. Paul's Eric Rea and Omaha's Stephen Sheehan. The two first met while working at Spaghetti Works in Omaha in 1983 -- Sheehan as a waiter and Rea as a chef. They became musically bound thanks to a shared 3-year stint behind the counter at Homer's Records. Sheehan went on to form Omaha's first Durutti Column / Throbbing Gristle / Left Banke- inspired rock band called Digital Sex, which enjoyed its share of notoriety both locally and in, of all places, France. Rea also played in a few local bands, none of which he's willing to name (though they included The Decades), before moving to the Minneapolis/St. Paul area in '93.

Their collaboration was borne out of a Thanksgiving meeting in '98, when Sheehan showed Rea an instruction manual to a female contraceptive device he got in the mail called Reality. "The instructions referred to it as the first female condom," Sheehan said. "Taken out of context, its manual was kind of fucked up and interesting."

He ended up sending Rea a homemade cassette recording of him reading the instructions out loud -- phrases like "Reality only works when you use it," and "Before using Reality, read the directions, learn to use it properly." As a lark, Rea used a 4-track mixer to meld Sheehan's reading with various loops, beats and sound effects.

"The result gassed us both so much that it awoke our inner idiot," Rea said.

The tape also included a version of "Lactose Oblivious," Sheehan's beat-style poem about Jesus walking into an ice cream parlor and ordering a sundae "split 12 ways," and the stream-of-conscience-flavored "Saw God and Laughed." "When I first heard the mixes, I was floored," Sheehan said. Inspired by the results, he sent Rea more tapes and the outcome is the duo's full-length debut, Lo-fi Enlightenment, released in May on Omaha's Side 1 Records.

The project could have had all the appeal of a poetry slam recited over a hippy soundtrack, but it works because of its almost relentless effort at being unpretentious. Sheehan's readings could have come off as embarrassing, but he pulls it off, thanks to his matter-of-fact recitation style. There are no obvious affectations or cute nuances when he's reading lines such as "Kisses dripping down my chin through my chest hairs onto my answering machine." Instead, the effect is like listening a blank stare or a disembodied mantra not quite meant for your ears. Nothing ever seems too serious, at least not to the point where you don't get the joke.

Rea compliments Sheehan's free-form weirdness with a collection of both found and made-up sounds, ranging from live bass, guitar and synth touches recorded in a studio, to obscure samples and loops that will only be recognized by collectors of rare records. The exception is "Blue Material," where Sheehan blurts out the word "sex" over a rather long sample of Frenchman Paul Mauriat's "Love Is Blue," a worldwide smash hit of 1968 that you will immediately recognize as soon as you hear it, and then long to hear the original in its entirety.

"There are awards to knowing where the samples come from and awards to not knowing the references," Sheehan said. "I'm not in on every joke."


 

 

Bliss Repair CD art


"The result gassed us both so much that it awoke our inner idiot."


 

 


"The samples range from performances from the 1940s through the 1990s, from genres stretching from jazz to rock and everything in between."


 

Rea was reticent to discuss the origin of the loops. "Why should I take the fun out of it? You want us to show you the smoke and mirrors," he said. "There's no Def Leppard, Bright Eyes or Mannheim Steamroller used. In fact, my policy is to never sample Mannheim Steamroller."

After further arm-twisting, the guessing game became a contest. "If someone can accurately name the origin of eight samples I used on the CD -- the group and title of the song -- I will send them a Bliss Repair T-shirt," he said. His only clue: "The samples range from performances from the 1940s through the 1990s, from genres stretching from jazz to rock and everything in between." Of course, to play the game, you have to buy the CD, then log onto www.side1records.com to submit your entry.

It goes without saying that neither Sheehan nor Rea made even the slightest attempt at attaining permission to use the samples. "They can sue us. We can use the publicity," Rea said. But after mentioning that the story could be read on the Internet, he seemed to get a little nervous about the whole issue.

"On a grassroots level, this wasn't intended to be released," he said. "Using these samples creatively is purely complimentary, and that was the objective. The next project will be less sue-able."

"We only pressed a few hundred copies," Sheehan added. "The people who are represented on the CD may never hear it, though I secretly hope they do."


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Published in The Omaha Weekly May 15, 2002. Copyright 2002 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.