Stuck on “Ulterior Motives”? Listen to Outer Limits Recordings

Sam Mehran. Photo by Daniel Merlot


Way back in 2021, an account with the handle carl92 posted a brief snippet on Whatzatsong, a website that lets its users collaborate to track down obscure tunes. carl92’s snippet was a lo-fi rip of an energetic ‘80s pop tune. With its blown-out quality and peppy vibe, the snippet — which was nicknamed “Everyone Knows That” — sounded like a Duran Duran hit that had been Mandela Effected out of our collective memories. Whatzatsong users were unable to identify the track, but many were hooked. The song became a minor TikTok hit, a subreddit called r/everyoneknowsthat sprung up, and an entire community was formed around figuring out where it came from. On Monday, user south_pole_ball announced that they had found it: The song’s real title is “Ulterior Motives,” and Christopher David Booth wrote it for a 1986 softcore porno called Angels of Passion.

When carl92 uploaded his snippet, “Everyone Knows That/Ulterior Motives” became lostwave: music with little to no information surrounding its authorship or release, leaving it in a limbo that can be quite enticing in an era of limitless information. Part of its appeal is in the treasure hunt, the satisfaction of putting clues together like pieces of bleached sea glass to form a full bottle. The revelation on Monday was the first time that I was introduced to “Ulterior Motives,” so I had no context for its stature within the annals of lostwave, but I did immediately see its appeal — mainly because it reminded me of the late Sam Mehran, an artist who intentionally made a lot of music, including pop, for a different, kinder world.

Mehran began releasing music decades after Booth composed the soundtrack for Angels of Passion (Booth is now a producer for SyFy, according to Stereogum). In 2004, Mehran formed a band called Test Icicles with Rory Atwell and Devonté Hynes (years later, Hynes would launch his popular art-pop project Blood Orange). They only released one album, 2005’s For Screening Purposes Only, before splitting up, but the album remains a dizzy, silly artifact of the nu-rave era, part At the Drive-In, part New Order, and part Jackass, with Mehran’s piercing wails and passionate shredding always the centerpiece of their best songs.

Mehran never escaped the shadow of Test Icicles, even as his solo music surpassed his old band. I was reintroduced to the American-Australian musician’s work a decade ago by the YouTube algorithm: 90210, a cassette tape Mehran recorded with NY experimenter James Ferraro, remains one of my favorite internet discoveries to this day. Blown-out butt-rock for an ‘80s lite beer ad is looped over and sent in weird and wonderful directions over the course of 30 minutes. Mehran recorded the project under the alias Sam Meringue; a quick Google search brought me back into Mehran’s world, and into his primary outlet, Outer Limits Recordings.

Outer Limits Recordings is not a perfect 1:1 with “Ulterior Motives.” While it mostly inhabits the lysergic pop world of R. Stevie Moore, it also veers into pure sound experiments. Newcomers should start with the 2013 collection Singles, Demos, and Rarities (2007-2010); the project contains songs where Mehran puts his best pop foot forward (“$20 Dollar Bill,” “Liberty,” “I Need My T.V.”) and stranger moments too, like the Throbbing Gristle thump of “Mind Kontrol (Ultra).” Listening to that compilation, it doesn’t take long before “Ulterior Motives” begins to sound like something Mehran could have written, or, at least, the kind of thing he loved to write.

Mehran committed suicide in 2018; 2021 saw the release of Cold Brew, his final album and the first to be released under his own name. There wasn’t a massive resurgence of interest in Mehran’s work, and the critical appraisals of his music were muted at best. It’s a bitter pill, even if Mehran did work in the fringes, but it’s sweetened somewhat by the kind of music he made as OLR: full-length songs you might have only heard a second of on a moldy VHS that’s been taped over into oblivion. It’s basically lostwave, for the here and now.