Alien City – Alien City (1979): A little pre-punk in the post -punk era.
“Alien City was composed over a period of five years. It is a song cycle of epic proportions centering around the incarnation of Celestial Visitors to this planet. They take youthful bodies with the soul mission of increasing the intelligence of the human race. Alas, in their compassionate endeavors they become trapped in the pernicious web of the world and their aim becomes warped and sarcastic. In taking mortal bodies they lose their reference point, their center of gravity, and they eventually become as depraved and stupefied as the very people they initially intended to illuminate. There is no story line; no characters are introduced. The work is arranged in four movements.” – Liner notes
The man responsible for Alien City was a Seattle, WA native named Jon Turnbow, and his labor of love is actually a concept album. The concept is a little vague, it is described as “the Incarnation of Celestial Visitors.”
The best description one could give of Alien City would be “Ziggy Stardust” or “Aladdin Sane” era Bowie, a little more glam/prog, a little less punk, and a bit more out of left field. Reports indicate that Jon might have spent time in an asylum after recording this album. To my knowledge this little gem hasn’t been reissued, but its crying out for it with all the Bowie love over the last decade. (Mediafire hasn’t been closed down yet – grab a copy of this brilliance here.)
By the time Jon Turnbow finished and self-released this album in 1979, the face of rock music was vastly different from when he’d started working on it in 1974: punk had happened. It may seem like a simplistic explanation, and definitely not the only one as to why this record remains a lost, very rare and hard to find gem. It wasn’t only that it was, in an age that was just witnessing the birth of DIY labels, self-released in an extremely limited amount of 500 copies, although I’m sure that helped. It’s also that, by any standard, musically it was totally out-of-place anywhere in the landscape of even the quirkiest pop music circa 1979.
In the years it took him to make this album Turnbow gave us twelve completed tracks of sulky glam rock. Where glam (read Bowie) had all that money, support and help, Turnbow has this weird sort of bedroom genius. Over this time he’s putting together this lo-fi concept album with all the twists and turns of a special kind of creative madness that comes from all that dark passion, garage committment, with an edge that grinds you teeth a little. He definitely calls us into his special brand of madness. A few of the other reviews that I have read claim Turnbow was institutionalized after making this which sounds like a cliché till you hear the album and realise he should be popped away for a wee spell – or he actually does have direct contact with aliens.
Either way, grab a copy of the download and have yourself a listen. This is a really brilliant little album and a lot of retro fun.