The underlying question that every reissue has to answer is “why?” Devoid of any new material, expanded liner notes or significant remastering, and with only a small (but decidedly passionate) fan base to speak for it, Sun City Girls’ Torch of the Mystics doesn’t immediately justify its existence, at least from an aesthetics perspective. That said, sometimes you climb Everest just because it’s there. Torch of the Mystics is the type of record that deserves to be experienced; even when it doesn’t succeed, its failures are more fascinating than most bands’ best work.

Sun City Girls lives under the wide umbrella of “experimental music,” but it draws more parallels to the Minutemen than it does to jazzbos or ‘70s prog rock. Relying on thin guitar tones, nearly absent percussion and bass that snaps from grounding to manic at the drop of a hat, the band merges elements of Texas country, surf-rock, Middle Eastern and religious influences into something unpredictable and wholly unique.

Originally released in 1990, contextualizing the album in the modern landscape becomes something of a challenge. So varied are the band’s experiments, one could make the argument that the band’s influence reverberates through the aughts. The psychedelic chanting and guitar groove of “Space Prophet Dogon” recalls both Animal Collective and Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks simultaneously, which is no small feat. “The Shining Path” suggests that all the bands that followed in the path of the Pixies could have found similar bones to play with had that band never existed.

Still, playing connect-the-dots, the album’s many musical strains becomes less important than appreciating the album’s outright successes. “Space Prophet Dogon” is a driving prayer of a song, with its central tender theme bookended by jittery explosions of controlled noise. Guitar freaks will spend the next 20 years trying to recreate the guitar tone on “Radar 1941,” which makes the instrument sound like it’s being stretched for miles from both ends. “Blue Mamba” might be the album’s most straightforward song, which makes it both a smart choice as an album opener and a bit of a bait-and-switch.

For all the moments that work, there are nearly as many that grate beyond belief. “The Flower” is a high-pitched wail of a psych-rock noise; less a song, more a challenge to the listener, a dare to see if they keep listening. The experience of “Tarmac 23,” “Cafe Batik” and “Papa Legba” comes off less like listening to musicians and more like sitting in on an especially talented group of dudes who are stoned out of their gourds and playing in different rooms. Chalk it up to the nature of experimental music, but hearing something as tossed off as “Tarmac 23” sandwiched between two of the album’s strongest tracks not only kills the record’s momentum, it’s almost insulting.

Still, these slights are all a part of the larger experience of Torch of the Mystics. Even the slapdash moments play as sincere because the band is so in control of its own vision. You don’t get to make music like this if you can’t play your instrument, and the virtuosity of Sun City Girls is never in question. That they filter their experiments through more working-class influences only enhances their appeal. Really though, the true appeal of the album might be something metaphysical. Its best moments feel almost too personal, like interrupting a solitary monk on a mountaintop. Torch of the Mystics captures a band that is plugged into the greater energy that controls the universe. Even when the results are ugly, they deserve to be seen.

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