Hailing from upstate New York, Lunch With Beardo is a collective of musicians and sound artists with deep roots in the local punk-rock scene who were drawn together by a mutual interest in free improvisation, avant garde jazz, 60s psychedelia, sound collage, and other forms of experimental music. I suspect there’s also a theatrical element to their live show, as the CD booklet contains photos of the band performing while wearing these really cool, albeit somewhat creepy, reptilian-looking masks.
The band’s debut, Surrealistic Picnic, is suitably trippy, dense, dark, lo-fi, and chaotic, though it never really delivers the full-throttle wall-of-sound fury that you might expect given the band’s background. Instead, much of the CD seems to be in a dark ambient mode, emphasizing the slow, creeping coalescence of sinister soundscapes using found sounds, electric guitars, samplers, feedback, electric trumpet, and random small percussion - nearly all heavily processed and otherwise messed-with. The band’s experience and, dare I say it, good taste is exemplified by the first 7 minutes or so of ‘Innocence to Wisdom’, which unfolds with burbling, reverb-soaked guitars, and all manner of unlikely found sounds like some great lost Krautrock piece from the late 60s. Another point of reference could be the sound collages created by UK-based industrial bands of the later 70s and early 80s such as Throbbing Gristle, Current 93, and others.
The only misstep here involves the trumpeter, who sounds as if he’d picked up the instrument for the first time just a few minutes before the engineer pressed the ‘record’ button. Maybe that was the point, but it proves to be a spoiler throughout "Surrealistic Picnic", especially on the second track. Unfortunately, he tends to occupy the musical foreground, and no amount of electronic augmentation or trickery can conceal his lack of ability.
With that caveat in mind, anyone with an appetite for the extreme end of the free improv spectrum who also enjoys primitive electronics, unadulterated sonic bizarreness, and pure musical chaos will want to check out Lunch With Beardo's Surrealistic Picnic.