Patrick Cowley & Jorge Socarras, Catholic

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Photo by Barbara Cole

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To Italo disco and Hi-NRG heads, Patrick Cowley will always be revered for his definitive remixes of “I Feel Love” and CBS favorite “Hills of Kathmandu,” as well as megahits such as “Menergy” or Sylvester’s “You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real).” Despite this cult status, Patrick Cowley’s music hasn’t received the critical acclaim afforded to a certain other disco auteur. The reasons for this are quite apparent; while Cowley and Arthur Russell’s back stories are superficially similar (experimental backgrounds, disco and Larry Levan, tragically young AIDS victims), their music is not. Cowley’s music seems too epic, too gay, too flamboyant, or even too “disco” for hipster appropriation; I mean, you’ve seen your uncle dance to “Do You Wanna Funk” at a wedding, right? All that may be set to change now that the good people at Macro have unearthed Cowley’s incredible, late ’70s new wave project, Catholic, made with Indoor Life singer Jorge Socarras.

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Nothing quite prepares you for how downright weird this sounds next to Cowley’s more mainstream offerings, certainly the reason why this was turned down by the record company at the time. DJ Bobby Viteritti attests Cowley was initially averse to the new wave sound before realizing its possibilities after a visit to club Trocadero Transfer, where Viteritti was weaving hits such as Blondie’s “Call Me” in and out of disco. However,Catholic sounds far from the work of a charlatan casting around for whatever is hip. The influences are very apparent — Devo, Kraftwerk, Roxy Music, minimal wave — but what shines through most strongly is Cowley’s talent for arrangements and songwriting. Socarras throughout maintains the kind of creepy, mannered pose that Bryan Ferry mastered so well for “In Every Dream Home A Heartache.”

This is most apparent on “You Laugh At My Face” where the titular phrase is intoned over and over, until it’s hard to hear whether the protagonist has more contempt for his carping assailants or the other way around. “Robot Children (Do You Love Your)” is similarly sneering, marrying a one night bass line and videogame effects to an invective-flecked monologue that mocks, “You once were into disco / but now you’re into rock / you lived in San Fransisco / but now you’re in New York.” Some of the music is frighteningly current. “I’ll Come See You” is a spooky incantation that could happily land on a Mordant Music compilation. Had it not been so pristinely restored by Stefan Goldmann, “Burn Brighter Flame” could probably pass as a gloomier older brother to Nite Jewel’s Good Evening. Still, Catholic maintains its period trappings for the most part, and it wouldn’t be a synthy new wave album without at least a token science fiction song. “Soon” is Catholic‘s adherence to that unwritten rule, but thankfully transcends the somewhat schlocky subject matter with Socarras’ arch delivery and some genuinely extraterrestrial pulses. “Cars Collide” is some kind of JG Ballard inspired punk automotive eroticism, while “I Never Want To Fall In Love” rides a Buzzcocks riff with noticeably more tart lyrics.

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Every song on Catholic is genuinely thrilling. Macro’s description of it as proto-techno, while strictly accurate, doesn’t do justice to its diversity and scope (closing song “Hurdy Gurdy Man” re-imagines fingers-in-ear folksingers on a day out to the seaside with stoned, giggly vintage synth nerds). While this astonishing rediscovery is unlikely to prompt Soul Jazz retrospectives, it ties in well with recent rekindlings of interest in minimal synth music (the new Louderbach album and the Minimal Wave record label being but two examples) and should also prove to be a gateway drug for a wider audience to Cowley’s back catalog.

ballyhoo  on October 20, 2009 at 5:55 PM

great coverage. this is definitely one of the best blasts from the past this year.

for anyone interested, check out a recent interview and guest dj set by jorge socarras over at my buddy daniel’s show on wfmu:http://www.wfmu.org/playlists/shows/33155

jorge played this track by his band indoor life that is sooo good!

athousandclaps  on October 22, 2009 at 9:47 PM

A great surprise in so many ways!

Honey Soundsystem  on October 23, 2009 at 1:17 PM

Thank you so much for the wonderful review Peder. I have been a fan of LWE for a long time and its so exciting to see something I am involved with make its way to your site.

For anyone that is interested in more about the history of Patrick Cowley or the Catholic album, check out the website for the memorial / record release we did for Catholic here in San Francisco.

http://www.megatronman.com

You can also expect to hear lots of more unheard Cowley music in the years to come. Over the past couple of years, while recovering much of Patricks lost catalog and history, we have learned so much about his true genius. Although his impact on music was great, there is so much that never hit the worlds ears that show his influence as a producer on a monumental scale.

Keep up the good work and keep our little ear buds buzzing!

xo
H

Robert O'Keefe  on February 5, 2014 at 9:53 PM

Waiting for some mixes I’ve yet to hear…since way back….some of those mixes have yet to be released….or found…maybe in a basement in Johannesburg or somewhere.

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