Delicate Tension - R. Stevie Moore (1978)
Start with: "Cool Daddio"
Why it’s worth revisiting: Stellar songwriting and performances throughout a cohesive and easily accessible collection of songs. This album sounds as brilliant as the day it was released, and continues to find new fans every year.
Back in 2007, R. Stevie Moore a.k.a. the “Godfather of Modern Home Recording” shared with BOMB Magazine:
I’m basically a quirky popster, yet does that make me avant- garde? Why so inaccessible? And I still believe too much emphasis is always placed on my tape decks rather than the unique variety of my repertoire and sonics. Anybody can and does stack tracks in their apartment. Big effing deal.
1978’s Delicate Tension – a canonical RSM release – is a must-listen for anyone interested in the pioneer’s music. And it only takes one listen to verify that RSM is anything but the mere apartment-bound track-stacker referenced by RSM above. “Cool Daddio” (also the name of an upcoming RSM documentary) effectively sets the tone and character for this album with its high energy, humor, punchy toms beats, and humorous vocals. This gem – like countless RSM contributions – sounds like it certainly should have been a minor hit on college radio at the very least. Chart positions notwithstanding, it's mini-masterpiece in its own rite.
Title track “Delicate Tension” is a delectable multi-tracked guitar instrumental that surely must have fallen upon the ears of one Mr. Mac DeMarco at some time or other. The track is a case study of just how talented and diverse a musician RSM is. “Schoolgirl” gleefully lands somewhere in the cracks between pop, skiffle, and country, and is sung in RSM’s the unique mid-Atlantic accent (heard on "This Wednesday” as well) that he often employs. Though this track sounds like it could have been a hit for Herman’s Hermits, it’s unlikely that band could have gotten away with the line, “would you rather fail than give some tail to me?”
“Zebra Standards 29” is a delightful off-kilter detour featuring gnarly guitar work and cryptically unintelligible spoken word panned to one side of the mix. It possesses the kind of charm and mystery of Pink Floyd at their best. “You Are Too Far from Me” changes the mood with it spacey funkiness, rhythmic sophistication, and extended outro, while “Oh Pat” comes off as a likable enough pop ditty until it abruptly ends one minute and eighteen seconds after it starts, reminding the listener to take nothing for granted when delving into the RSM catalog. “Apropos Joe” juxtaposes a muscular punk-rock backing track with RSM’s Mickey Mouse-like falsetto vocals, serving as another example of RSM’s modus operandi of making himself at home in various genres, though never balking at an opportunity to stretch the confines of those genres. The sparse-but compelling “Funny Child” and classic and contemplative “Norway” provide depth to the album, and sound-collage “Some Voices” further diversifies this eclectic collection. A transfixing keyboard motif coupled with low-key vocals on “I Go Into Your Mind” lend a dreamy atmosphere to the proceedings, while the brief and bizarre "Horizontal Hideaway” pleases with its bouncy groove, hyperactive manipulated vocals, and abrupt ending. “Don`t Let Me Go to the Dogs” is quintessential RSM – a multi-sectioned, pleading wonder with smart chord changes, falsetto vocals, spoken sections in the vein of Frank Zappa, quirky keyboards, and actual dogs all adding up to pure listening bliss.
Irwin Chusid remembers:
"I took the doll photo and designed the cover. I'm neither a designer nor a fancier of dolls. I bought that one at a garage sale and gave it to RSM on permanent loan. It's life-sized, and he kept it in his apartment and used it as a clothing rack. I created scores of drum tracks for RSM, and he used maybe 25% of them. This Wednesday was the first to appear on disc. I think it's the least consequential track on the album. Wish I'd played drums on Don't Let Me Go to the Dogs or You Are Too Far From Me. That was Mark Cudnik, RSM's buddy from Nashville."
Happy listening, weirdos!
While there are more than one possible version of the track list, tracks mentioned here are selected from RSM’s most up-to-date preference (as seen on his bandcamp account), sans bonus tracks. Additionally, it is noteworthy that RSM is responsible for all instruments and singing with the drum tracks contributed by Mark Cudnik and Irwin Chusid.