For years, the term ‘plastic soul’ was an insult, dished out by the genre’s true devotees toward the crude imitators of the Motown and Stax roster of artists, condemned for their perceived kitschy and inauthentic hijacking of the soul sound. It took a restless and audacious David Bowie, fuelled by cocaine blitzed hubris and glam rock’s descent into self-parody firmly in his bloodshot sight, to embrace his ersatz mimicry of soul, stating ’75’s Young Americans as “the final report of plastic soul. Its squashed remains of ethnic music as it survives in the age of Muzak, written and sung by a white limey.” With classic cuts like the title track and ‘Fame’, in addition to being invited to perform on the seminal Soul Train, Bowie’s synthetic interpretation of soul proved to be commercially successful and lauded in the African-American community he was purporting to emulate.
What would a ‘silicone prairie’ sound like? The juxtaposition of polymer artifice and rustic pastures perhaps has already been given a soundtrack by the litany of art-punk subversives that exploded across Ohio in the mid seventies, acts like early Devo, Bizarros and Pere Ubu scoring a particularly agitated and acrid experimental noise informed by the barren dust storms of the Mid-West rather than the urban decay of the burgeoning New York scene. The special Great Plain post-punk spirit has rubbed off on Kansan artist Ian Teeple. COVID forcing time away from band duties in Warm Bodies and The Natural Man Band, his lone project Silicone Prairie is a lo-fi bedroom retreat of four-track punk stretched and elasticated into impressive contortions of rubbery branches into psych-rock and sunny, indie jangles.
The scope of influences belies the Sci-Fi maths cover of My Life on the Silicone Prairie, although album opener ‘PD2TB’ conforms with the geometric alien artwork, a taut fizz of nervous bass and sinewy guitar that hits with a dose of alienated menace typical of his eggpunk brethren. Elsewhere flashes of distorted synthpunk spits on tracks like ‘Open Module’, a gloriously infectious garage-rock number soaked in atonal synth defects, while the feverish ‘Dance to the Beat’ injects a shot of Talking Heads gritty, neurotic rhythms circa Fear of Music. An intriguing detour into spacey instrumentals crops up on the trippy ‘Song for Patrick Cowley’, a homage to the titular producer of Sylvester’s ’78 disco classic ‘You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real’ and a plethora of gay porn soundtracks, borne out of a noodling session on an old Behringer synthesizer, Teeple’s own imitation of Hi-NRG disco.
The secret weapon to My Life…‘s distinct character is Teeple’s affection for the sunlit folk rock of The Byrds or Buffalo Springfield fed through the avant-garde psychedelia of The United States of America, a unique palette of sounds for the weirdo punk scene Teeple is associated with. ‘Lay in the Flowers’ fuses Violent Femmes indie with heady flutes that roll along with pleasing, rootsy country rock testifying to Teeple’s deft bounce between disparate tones and styles. Expert acid rock erupts effervescently on the thrilling ‘Born into Trouble’, a fantastic demonstration of electric fretwork and a killer solo, and warped, layered vocals just about harmonise on ‘Song for the Eagles to Sing’, even a minor foray into soft rock must be bent and misshapen in true, Mid-West punk fashion.
By the time My Life…‘s final track ‘Come Away’ ends with a hissing tape erosion, we come to understand exactly what a silicone prairie would sound like. The ‘plastic folk rock’ that is conjured from the queasy rubber landscape of synthetic plains and polystyrene expanse is impeccably realised in Silicone Prairie’s debut effort, retaining enough of the jagged bite to thrust Teeple to the fore of the synthpunk vanguard, but exceptionally infuses the weird with an affecting heart of melodic light and breezy hues that instils a much needed sense of uplifting affirmation in our upside-down world.