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Bliss Repair

This Is Reality

Self Release

So what's Stephen Sheehan up to now? That's the first question that came to mind when I received an ornately decorated box containing a cassette tape marked "Bliss Repair" a month ago. Also enclosed, a letter explaining everything. But first, who the hell is Stephen Sheehan?

Way back in the '80s and early '90s, Dr. Sheehan (he's not really a doctor, as far as I know) was the lead vocalist for an Omaha-based ambient rock band called Digital Sex. You can read all about the band and their weird exploits right in this very website by clicking here. In addition to Digital Sex, Sheehan also's been involved in a number of eccentric and always interesting bands and solo ventures.

Hence, the new Bliss Repair 4-song demo, this time mixing spoken word with ambient, pseudo-electronica backing tracks and noises. What's the deal these days with spoken-word performance albums, anyway? Belle and Sebastian offshoot Looper is scoring heavy college attention with their new CD, Up a Tree, a collection of writings spoken in a thick Scottish brogue (a review of Up a Tree also is online at that good ol' Lazyeye reviews page). And what about the enormously popular spoken word track by Baz Luhrmann -- "Everybody's Free (to wear sunscreen)"? Is it a trend? Is it a fad? Most likely. Although I know Sheehan isn't trying to capitalize on it (he tells me he's never heard either recording).

Bliss Repair isn't nearly as slick as those two CDs. It's DIY all the way, with Sheehan recording his recitations on a tape recorder, then sending them off to St. Paul's Eric Rea, a former Omahan (who used to be in a band called The Decades), who places them over looped drums, bass and synth sounds. The lyrics for the first track, "This is Reality," features Sheehan reading the directions from a Reality female contraceptive box. Lines like:

Reality only works when you use it.

Before using Reality, read the directions and learn how to use it properly.

Because Reality is new, it may look different to you or you may feel nervous about trying to insert it.

Get it? It's sort of, I don't know… ironic? Rea's bass is a 4/4 funk thing, lying beneath all sorts of noises, including what sounds like a backward-tracked sitar. About halfway though, Rea breaks up the old-school drum beat and turns in a middle-eastern-flavored electronica rant. Eventually, Rea has no choice but to distort Sheehan's voice. It's weird, it's bracing, it's what we've all come to expect from a Sheehan project. Translated: It's ain't boring, and will take repeated listenings to smooth the rough edges. A much more experimental second mix of the track appears at the end of the tape. Everything gets distorted. Sort of like listening to the track under water.

 

The tape's second track, "It's Not for Him," has Sheehan telling us a story about Jesus walking into an ice cream parlor and ordering a sundae split 12 ways, says it's not for him. Jesus as sort of a caretaker for street people, ie, apostles. Mary as a cranky mother, and so on. Meanwhile, the backing sounds are Rea's rather tribal bass lane and feedback-like synth tones. Track three, "Saw God and Laughed," sports lots of samples, including Star Trek transporter sounds, found noises, synth farts, drum fills. Rea's loop choices are interestingly nostalgic, making Sheehan's recitation, which enters later, sound like a '60s beat poetry reading. This one's not a narrative as much as a free form open verse poem linking assorted thoughts in a shotgun rhythm. Drugs? Maybe… "PS: I would never steal your car, just borrow it for the afternoon to buy fireworks." I'm not gonna even try to figure out what it means, you'll have to ask Sheehan.

Sheehan says the last track, Vigil, was only included to give listeners a perspective with which to compare the rest of the tape. Maybe not a good idea, since the recording quality of Vigil makes the first half of the tape sound like it was recorded on a boom box. It was recorded in 1990 and sounds like something that would fit right into a 4AD sampler. This one is striking. Makes you wonder why Sheehan doesn't sing any more.

He says the days of Digital Sex are over for good. He'd like someone to cover one of their songs. Yeah, it would be interesting to hear one of the local bands do an interpretation, but by the direction Sheehan's going, I doubt he'd be happy with the final product. Maybe it's time to bury Digital Sex once and for all, but something tells me we haven't heard the last from them. Or from Sheehan. He says he's working on some more Bliss Repair tracks with Rea and may even release a version of the demo for the general public. Next, maybe a performance art piece? He'd have to convince Rea to drive down to Omaha. That could be a hard sell (you ever been to St. Paul?). Something tells me Sheehan could do it.


Contact info:

Digital Sex Website

E-mail Sheehan at: sundaramaji@hotmail.com

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Copyright 1999 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.


Reality only works when you use it.