Two of my favorite musical artists are now gone from this world, and both of them have massive archives of unreleased material slowly making their way out into the world. One, we all know: Prince. The other is nowhere nearly as well-known to the general public, but influenced many as part of the hidden history of 20th and 21st century music. Alan Vega was half of the proto-techno, transistor-punk duo Suicide, and even minus what's languishing in the vaults, he released far more material under his own name than he did with his collaborator Martin Rev. Now comes the first of those vault releases, Mutator, recorded in 1995-1996, around the time he was putting together the Dujang Prang album. It's a good Alan Vega record, which means by anyone else's standards it's a very good one.
Mutator is short — barely more than 30 minutes — but one upside to that is none of the tracks are dross. The opener, "Trinity", an echo-chamber scene-setter that calls to mind one of Rev's own spiritually themed tracks, is probably the weakest of the bunch, but it gets out of the way in short order. Everything that follows is familiar in the best way: the hammering drum sequences; the "Elvis-cum-Iggy-psychobilly attack" (as one reviewer put it) of Vega's reverb-drenched vocals; the squirming chaos of each track's soundscape, where as soon as you think you've got things pinned down Vega and collaborator Liz Lamere (his wife of many decades, until his death) they slip away from you and, uh, mutate.
Vega clearly had a sound of his own, one that diverged further from the core Suicide sound as time went on, but here and there you can hear it trickling back in. Or at least the way it incarnated in Rev's own solo work. E.g., "Samurai", a track that sounds like a cousin to all the more melodious moments in the Suicide catalog ("I Remember", "Surrender", "Cheree", "Girl", "Sweetheart", etc.). Maybe it fits that "Nike Soldier", the best cut on the album and the only one with a video single to promote it, wouldn't sound out of place on the last actual Suicide record, American Supreme. It's even tougher than anything on that disc, despite it being released five years after this was recorded, although it has the same coldly self-possessed, white-nosed fury Vega put out on Supreme in its best moments, as when he intoned "I buried my brother today" on "Misery Train" to offhandedly jolting effect. Here, Vega sneers "You destroy, you destroy generations," and it cuts nearly as deep.