John Fekner City Squad – “Idioblast” (1984)

Sorry that things have been quiet on Life in the Vinyl Lane over the last week. It’s just that I’ve been stupid busy, traveling a ridiculous amount at work, and taking care of some family business, and frankly there hasn’t been enough time and/or energy to write. Which actually makes me quite anxious, so I’m glad for a Friday afternoon off and the opportunity to sit and spin some of the records in my “To Listen To” pile.

John Fekner is an artist from New York City who first gained notoriety in the 1970s for his graffiti style street art, and 1984s Idioblast was his first full length album. Fekner surrounded himself with musicians and fellow street artists to put out an intriguing blend of electronica, hip hop, and new wave, something that sounds like an early 1980s German synth band fronted by NYC rappers. If it’s reminiscent of anything, it’s the work that was being put out across the pond by UK label On-U Sound.

While the rapping is at times marginal, Fekner and friends do capture some magic on tracks like “Travelogue of the 80s,” with it’s hip hop beat overlaid with synths, news broadcast samples, and modulated vocals, a catchy and groovy number that reminds me a bit of Gary Clail and Tackhead, except with a more hip hop base as opposed to the reggae dub favored by the On-U performers. But it also has things like “Wheels Over Indian Trails,” a straight up folk song with no beats to speak of and only a keyboard to give it any sense of modernity.

Idioblast appars to be fairly obscure, and what drew me to it originally was the cover – an example of Fekner’s collage art that combines various stencil images. It was self release on Fekner’s own Vinyl Gridlock Records and funded by a grant from the New York State Council on the Arts, an interesting project for them to sponsor. Alas, my copy seems to be missing the 7″ flexi that originally came with the record, though it does include a half-sheet review of the album from the March 22, 1985 CMJ/New Music Report that describes it as “a unique and riveting record,” and I can’t disagree with that assessment.