Bulbous Monocle presents a first time vinyl reissue of The TFUL 282 masterpiece LP originally released in 1994 on Matador Records. Even in a catalog that bristles with pinnacles, Strangers from the Universe remains pinnaclier than most. Somehow harnessing influences from Bali to Cinecittà to Memphis to the wobbly Sunday morning organ at Oakland’s Rose of Sharon Missionary Baptist Church without feeling contrived or showoffy, Strangers is possibly and/or indisputably the most successful shotgun marriage of the Fellers’ disparate pop sensibilities with their outlandish song structures, their acre-feet of tape snippets with their hydra-headed arrangements, and their individual compositional and instrumental skills with their congenitally peculiar joint sensorium.
Eager as always to experiment with unconventional (i.e., daft and cumbersome) approaches to writing and recording, the Fellers fine-tuned their working methods for Strangers, assigning individual members as “sheriffs” to oversee the arrangement of promising morsels into coherent compositions. Even more daringly, they decided to let Greg Freeman, their long-suffering engineer, control his own mixing board. “The result was a much more cohesive sound than we’d ever gotten with our usual approach,” says TFUL282 multi-instrumentalist and vocalist Mark Davies.
The Fellers’ 1994 tour saw the band in full flight bringing the Strangers material to their growing fanbase. Sharing bills with Matador labelmates Pavement and Jon Spencer Blues Explosion for more high-profile gigs, TFUL 282 tore through the US playing from coast to coast and sharing stages with kindred spirits the Sun City Girls, Fly Ashtray, and a host of regional bands who stood in awe at the overwhelming spectacle and furious sonic and visual onslaught that this band could generate on a nightly basis.
“I’ve always thought of Strangers and the fall tour for it as a pinnacle of sorts,” Mark says.
It’s easy enough to cite some highlights as evidence: “Hundreds of Years,” a blossom-garlanded Tower of Song erected at the intersection of Abbey Road and Jalan Kajeng; the galvanic sputter of “Socket” and “February” (the latter titled after a handy mnemonic for “Fingered Eastern Banjo”); Brian Hageman’s oddly moving “The Operation,” which Mark calls “one of the most sonically dense/confused things we ever did.”
Bulbous Monocle’s long-overdue reissue puts every single one of this millipedal LP’s best feet forward with meticulous remastering by the golden-eyed and gimlet-eared Mark Gergis, making it an essential acquisition for the diffident toe-dipper as well as the seasoned bathyscaphist.