Repulsar at Remer

by Richard Thomas

A short time ago I reviewed a local band that played in a number of different styles and I suggested (violating first rule of music club, do not make suggestions to musicians) that instead of exploring different genres, they might try to create something totally new, something no one’s ever heard before. Like a sign dropped from the sky, a few weeks later this cd was mailed to our office (not from the same band). Indeed it is unlike anything I’ve ever heard before. And I never want to hear it again.

That’s the point, of course. It’s supposed to be weird, disturbing and repulsive. The band is called Repulsar, alright? It’s beyond avante garde; it borders on psychotic. If it’s unlistenable, they’ve succeeded. Yeah, there’s a market for this stuff. If you’re a fan of unwatchable movies like “Psyched by the 4D Witch” and “Monster A-Go-Go,” then Repulsar is your cup of phlegm.

Basically it’s a bunch of messing around with digital recordings, distorting sounds and creating stereophonic yawps. There are only four tracks. In the first, “Bob Deified,” someone says “wow, Bob” over and over while in the background there’s noodling with bass, saxophone and keys. The first track is only four minutes long, but the next, “No Devil God Knits War,” is 10 minutes. Track 3, “Raw Stink Dog Lived On,” is the exact same length as track 2 because it’s the same piece played in reverse, and the name is a palindrome spelled the same forward and back. Track 4 is Track 1 in reverse and called “Deified Bob.” So the entire album is the same forward and in reverse.

Repulsar is from the Twin Cities, but in the liner notes they say they recorded the basic noises for the album during a campfire concert in Chippewa National Forest near Remer. Where? you might ask. Remer is a North Central Minnesota grease spot on the map just a spit and a holler down the road from Brainerd where the movie “Fargo” is set. As grease spots go, Remer’s not bad. I spent a year working there in the late 1990s, first as a cook, then at the sawmill across the street. Most of the people were nice, some not. But I digress. 

In 2009 someone photographed someone in a gorilla suit near Remer and claimed it was Bigfoot (like that had never been done before) and it made national news on an apparently slow day. A few years later the town decided to capitalize on that for tourism purposes and call itself “Home of Bigfoot,” since no other town before had been shamelessly cheesy enough to do that. They now hold a Bigfoot festival every summer.

Repulsar has out-crazied the good citizens of Remer. In their liner notes they explain that the Bigfoot are multidimensional and when sighted, they disappear by moving back in time. Hence the album contains a lot of yowls, grunts and chirps in forward and reverse, since Bigfoot communicate both ways. Some of the noises were recorded at a “Kids Calling Bigfoot” contest at last year’s festival. P.S. Remer is a palindrome.

Listening to this album, or as much as you can stand, tempts you to look them up online. This leads you to an encyclopedic and entertaining website about the band, its three members (Newt Skink, Michael Donahue and Wayne Sayers) and their music and theatrical projects dating back to the 1980s. It’s full of recordings, essays, some intellectual stuff that went over my head and, best of all, comics.

Donahue, who also records as the solo electronic act Primadonahue, was told as kid by a voice teacher, “In order to make a living in music you need to either be really good or really bad. Those in the middle starve.” After 20 years of trying and not being successful in music, he founded Repulsar to test the theory: “Is there a secret trap door on the edge of terrible that when crawled through will lead to the promised land of greatness?”

So arguably Repulsar sucks so bad they’re great. I ain’t saying it ain’t a fact. Though having looked through their backstory, I feel the inevitable twinge of regret at having pulled back the curtain to discover the wizard. I kind of dug the repulsed feeling I had when I first heard it, wondering what aliens made this and what dungeon they’re locked in. Turns out they’re the sort of guys you wouldn’t mind hanging out with. Though you might not want to let them choose what music to listen to.