Everyone deserves to have an album like Sicilian Vespers’ self-titled debut in Heavy Rotation when they first join a college radio station. It should be wild and challenging. It should be tuneful but relentlessly weird. It helps if the lead vocals are best described as an acquired taste, especially if even that heavily compromised compliment is itself charitable. It should be, in short, something that could only be heard (and valued and respected) on college radio. For me, that record was the self-titled debut from Sicilian Vespers.
The creation of David and Francis Rifugiato, brothers who were indeed born in Sicily, Sicilian Vespers is abrasive, punky, and amusing in an off-kilter way. This is an album with song titles like “Teenage Abuse,” “Floozie of the Neighborhood,” and “She’s a Meatball,” each of them sounding even more bizarre than the average seasoned music fan would likely predict. They are kindred spirits of the Dead Milkmen, and yet make that bratty group sound as smooth as Depeche Mode in comparison. As evidence, I offer up the plaintive yearning of “I Want to Talk to a Squirrel.” In its romping, caustic commitment, it is a true thing of beauty.
I’ve often admitted that my college radio station was a little less adventurous than most, but it’s worth noting that Sicilian Vespers managed to make it to the top of one of our weekly charts. As station lore had it, that particular list, reported dutifully to CMJ, coincided with the one week that Sicilian Vespers blipped onto the trade publication’s Top 200 chart. The Music Director at the time was convinced, probably correctly, that our placement of the album at number one helped mightily in getting the release it’s minor, fleeting national chart recognition. I surely played it that week. I’m glad I did my part.
I’m also proud to say a vinyl copy of Sicilian Vespers has a honored place in my collection, directly thanks to my work at the station. Fairly early in my tenure, I won the highly coveted and somewhat arbitrarily awarded honor Staffer of the Week. The prize was a crack at the contents of the station’s requisite metal cabinet stuffed full of the giveaway copies of new music. I was allowed to claim one album, whatever I wanted. I bypassed bigger and better releases to claim Sicilian Vespers, largely on the correct assumption that this was a record I would never actually see in a store. My only way of securing a copy was to pluck it from that cabinet. I’m sure it drive my Thomson Hall roommate nuts whenever I played it one his stereo as he had very different musical taste. Of course, that unkind battering of others’ eardrums was part of the point of having a record like Sicilian Vespers, too.
Listen or download –> Sicilian Vespers, “I Want to Talk to a Squirrel”
(Disclaimer: I usually commit to using this spot to feature music that is out of print or only available in a manner that is unlikely to provide due compensation to the artist. That’s not really the case in this instance, as the album is just waiting for you to spend a mere five bucks — a steal! — to download it in its entirety from a very artist-friendly website. So I am sharing this here not because it is otherwise unavailable, but instead as an active, urgent encouragement to run-don’t-walk to the spot on the web where you too can get every last wondrous note of this album while providing monetary support to the band. I also offer my usual pledge that I will gladly and promptly remove this track my little corner of the interweb if asked to do so by any individual or entity with due authority to make such a request.)