Late last week, I received a package in the mail from Sledged Infant Records, featuring a double EP of acid wave music. You’ve probably never heard of it before, but the genre of music is typified by its “fuzzy mix of psychedelia, funk, jazz, synthesized electronica, and whole-band improvisation from eccentric artists cranking out dope tracks in relative obscurity. The A-Side of the cassette featured music from GERTRUDE, 75-year old twin sisters out of Minnesota that mix electro dance rhythms and classical music with samples from film and television. The B-Side highlighted the works of Space Butter – recently deceased band leader Henry Wilson explicitly insisted that his works never be released, but in the words of the label, “this shit’s too good for your beyond-the-grave anxiety to stop.” If this kind of thing’s your jam, Sledged Infant Records runs an exclusive, ultra-secret mailing list for the most discerning of acid-wave fans. Oh also, the world may be coming to an end.
The acid-wave music genre doesn’t exist, Sledged Infant Records isn’t real, and the world isn’t actually coming to an end. But that didn’t stop Atlanta-based creative production company The Prudent Mariner from mixing together an hour-long cassette of acid-wave music, and offering a follow-up mix tape compiling the history of the non-existent genre for sale on their non-existent label’s website. The biographies and discographies on the Sledged Infant Records site paint a vivid picture of the colorful personalities who came together to create a music scene spanning almost four decades. And something is very, very wrong in this alternate universe. To understand, let’s fully unpack what I received in the mail.
Unpacking an Album Release
The first item in my Sledged Infant Records care package was a partially redacted note from The Prudent Mariner, warning:
I have no way of knowing if this will make it to you or not. We’ve never had confirmation that anything has come out the otherside. But the risks are too great now to worry. We must take every chance we get. They are getting closer.
You can’t help us…but it’s not too late for your world. You still have a chance. Maybe this will help you. Maybe not.
But if this does reach you, pay close attention. Due to the circumstances, there may be some deciphering required.
A bit strange for an introduction to a niche album release, but additional notes from The Prudent Mariner sprinkled in between music recommendations on Sledged Infant’s blog reinforce that something ominous is going on. While The Prudent Mariner is the actual production company responsible for Sledged Infant’s Retrospective: 1969-2007 album the company (or its moniker) seems to be serving a dual role within the fictional narrative, although it might be too soon to tell what exactly that role might be.
The album itself was exactly what it claimed to be – a remarkably well produced double EP, featuring GERTRUDE’s My Grandmother Actually Made This on one side, and Space Butter’s AZIMUTH on the other. Both albums are available streaming and for download at sledgedinfant.com/s2069 under the password grandmalovesyou, and you can listen to the tracks ripped directly from the cassette on ARGNet’s Soundcloud, in case “some deciphering required” should be taken that seriously.
The manila envelope contained stickers from the label and a letter from the Sledged Infant record club on Morton S. Hodgson, Jr.’s stationery, introducing the featured artists with an endearingly over-the-top flair. Space Butter front-man Henry Wilson’s strong resistance to releasing the album jumps out, amplified by additional pieces of correspondence featuring Hodgson’s letterhead on the blog.
Making Music About More Than Music
While it’s difficult to tell exactly what The Prudent Mariner and Sledged Infant Records is doing, it’s clear that music is at the core of the experience – almost two hours of music produced, the best way to get a sense of the project is to find your most pretentious pair of headphones, lean back, and enjoy music so exclusive and obscure, it never really existed. The songs are well produced, and the psychedelic music tells a story on its own.
If the music intrigues you, diving one step deeper to explore the made-up stories of the characters that made the fictional music micro-genre come alive. Poring through the colorfully written bios and discographies of musicians scratches an itch for distributed narratives in all the right places. And if digging a little deeper explains more about the ominous threat that serves as background noise to the experience? All the better.
There’s a storied history of fiction bleeding into music, and vice versa. Even before The Nine Inch Nails’ Year Zero alternate reality game ten years ago, fictional artists have been playing with the boundaries of reality. The Spinal Tap mockumentary led to real world performances. TV show bands like The Monkees and The Brady Bunch released real albums. Even the identities of artists have become fair game. While Gorillaz replaced real musicians with animated avatars, Hatsune Miku jumped straight to fictional construct, while Poppy has turned her identity into a vaguely unsettling piece of performance art, commenting on the music industry itself. But while artists and bands have been fictionalized, this is my first time encountering an entire genre pulled from whole cloth. And that expansive reach adds a sense of wonder to the experience.
Go check out SledgedInfant.com, give acid-wave a listen, and consider buying their cassette tape looking back on decades of music that never was. Who knows – maybe that “booklet of meticulously researched liner notes” will have a few more clues to the mystery.