Dianne Bellino and the Continental OP, "Slitch"
The first time I heard Continental OP, the collaborative project between Dave Pajo and Will Oldham, was on the label Temporary Residence Limited's compilation called "Sounds For The Geographically Challenged." I bought that record largely because of Continental OP's appearance on it (I had been tipped off who the band members were) and, after listening to the playful but underwhelming song, regarded the project mostly as a lark, never expecting to see the collaborative effort turn up again. But five years later, team Pajoldham have surprised me by offering a collection of songs which serve as the score/soundtrack for an independent short film called "Slitch." Once again, the project seems like a lark, as if the two were doing the filmmaker Dianne Bellino a nice favor, producing a little chestnut: nothing as fancy or remarkable as the Dashiell Hammett character the band's name references. There are springy melodic tracks ("Faster"), Misfits punk rock approximations ("James Tired"), and simplistic songs with second-grade-music-class-instrument accoutrements ("Glock"). The most resonant song is "La La La," an infectious Free Design inspired harmony line which I found myself humming throughout the day. All of these sort of limp ahead clumsily with no signature sound contributed by either Pajo or Oldham and without any real direction, which brings us to the film itself. On the flip side of the DVD is Dianne Bellino's short film "Slitch." The word "slitch" is an amalgam of "slut" and "bitch," and it is the appellation which the protagonist's bitter older sisters assign to her because she is distracted in her behavior, aloof in her interactions, and (according to the sisters) often carefree about her sexual encounters. At our first glimpse of Slitch, she is lying in the grass of some wooded parkland, having ostensibly just slept with the man next to her. She arises with a noticeable glint in her eyes, retrieves her underwear from the shrubbery, and is off. The focal point of the film is Slitch's interactions with the local surfer dude, played fondly by Will Oldham. Oldham's surfer is as oblivious to Slitch's sexual advancements as she is heavy-handed in their delivery. He just wants to watch surfing videos and surf, while she just wants to have sex. At one point they compromise and have ice cream. Besides observing Oldham, which is always fun, I was delightfully distracted from the film by trying to determine if the beach where Bellino filmed was the same Rhode Island beach where I had spent a Fourth of July once and a pal of mine had lost his car keys in the sand (they were later miraculously found in a last ditch effort, but not before I had lent him $40 to have a new key made. We are both still uncertain if that $40 was ever recouped by me). Formally, the film is carefully shot and considered. It even has moments of looking delicate, such as Slitch's sunsetted stroll on the beach or Slitch's silent mom grabbing a Miller Hi-Life from the refrigerator, but nothing very engaging in terms of story or plot. The film's story is an innocuous Cinderella tale with no sense of danger or drama. Slitch's two evil sisters seem no more oppressive than a gaggle of noisy geese, and her Prince Charming would rather jet off to Hawaii than bother deciphering Slitch's confusing mind state. We are asked to believe that Slitch has an alarming need for sex, but we never really see this. She does not habitually masturbate; there are no erotic posters of Corey Haim on her walls; and she seems able to occupy herself with placid walks on the beach at dusk while listening to her walkman. Sex seems almost as a healthy avocation to her, not a destructive obsession. The evil sisters ought to relax their criticism of Slitch and take a moment between moustache waxes to grab a beer with mom. - Joshua David Mann
Andrew Chalk, "Over the Edges"
Heavy and fluctuating drones, ponderous organic sounds, and subtle thematic shifts all add up to an album that is about as hard to describe as it is captivating. The swells of organ-like mumurs and the gentle hints of bird sounds and lilting winds on Over the Edges had a number of effects on me as I listened to it again and again. At first the drones were too imposingthey seemed like a veil of shadows that hid the face of some insidious creature that might either drive me to the edges of insanity or attack me unsuspectingly. A second listen projected images of impossibly high mountains choked at their peaks by unending snowfall and a third transported me into the nether reigons of space illuminated by the death and birth of stars. I've probably listened to this album over ten times in the last seven days and it never fails at lighting up my imagination and directing it to compose images of vast, fantastic landscapes inhabited by perplexing and enigmatic creatures. Though much of the music is repetitous, the varied emotions and reponses it kindled in my mind never became old or unwelcome. The minimal number of sounds used gives me the oppurtunity to fill in the blanks and participate in the music as it wanders through the room. I could say this album is ghostly or creepy, but that would be oversimplifying its beauty. Andrew Chalk has composed an excellent piece of meditative music capable of both relaxing and stimulating the mind and igniting the imagination in a flame of unspeakable power. - Lucas Schleicher
The Bug, "Pressure"
Kevin Martin has revived Bug for a new album, six years after the release of the excellent Tapping The Converstaion, which paid musical homage to Francis Ford Coppola's classic film The Conversation with a sparse soundtrack of noirish instrumental hip hop. Now, Martin is dipping into another genre for The Bug's follow up, Pressure that shares little other than Martin's love of a trunk-bumping beats with its predecessor. With Pressure Martin has stripped away the supporting cast and collaborators from other recent projects (Techno Animal, Ice, God to name but a few) and has left behind the largely hip hop influenced sound for a foray into the heretofore underexposed microgenre of ragga. While ragga rhythms and vocal takes have influenced jungle and drum 'n bass for years now, the only real outlet for ragga itself seems to have been the college and independent radio stations tucked away in the recesses of the airwaves that host specialty shows filled with fast rhyming MCs, redlined beats, and "big-ups" a plenty. For those uninitiated with ragga, it can be instantly recognized from its peculiar, syncopated rhythm pattern that takes the laid-back groove of reggae and infuses it with the grit of home-made hip hop and dance music. Pressure kicks off with this signature rhythm and through 12 tracks never lets it go. This repetition of the theme is the album's greatest drawback, and one that offers up an unfortunately one-sided view of the ragga/dub/dancehall pantheon that is still waiting to be explored and elevated to another place. Others like DJ Scud and Panacea's alter-ego Rich Kid have fused ragga into mashed up beat massacres, but Kevin Martin offers only a slightly tweaked version of the sound that can be heard on ragga mix CDs all over. What The Bug excells at, however, is embellishing the simple jumpy rhythm with bits of noise and squealing synth that fans of Martin's other work will no doubt love. Of these 12 songs, there are at least ten that could stand alone as 12" singlesa testament to Kevin Martin's knack for stringing together the elements into a whole. The revolving cast of featured vocalists keeps things moving along, and gives each track enough of its own identity to keep them from all running completely together. Since hearing one of the leading singles from this album, "Killer" released on a 7" single last year, there hasn't been a more anticipated album for me than Pressure, and happily, it fulfills its promise of distorted bass and 90 mph rhymes. This is one record, though, where a remixer's hand could provide a little extra variation and a fresh set of ideas to take at least some of these tracks in another direction. If Pressure does nothing more than nod some heads and introduce a wider audience to the rough style ragga that Martin loves, it'll still be a great success. - Matthew Jeanes
Sunn O))), "White1"
Ever wonder what Black Sabbath would sound like if Ozzy and Bill Ward were shot and killed, leaving a bereaved Tony Iommi and Geezer Butler to play a slow dirge at their funeral while under the influence of horse tranquilizers? What if that sound were then passed through the depths of hell and slowed down to last the entire day? The sound might begin to approximate the slow, doom-laden heaviness of Sunn O))), a pair of doped-up metalheads from the Deep South. Sunn O)))'s musick is evil, neolithic metal sludge that was born out of Satan's ass. Greg Anderson and Stephen O'Malley's strategy is simple: reduce heavy metal to its primal elementsguitar and bass, played slow and thick, like a barrel of syrupy magma being poured into a hole full of preschoolers. Nobody can actually play guitar this painfully slow, so Anderson and O'Malley make use of a variety of tape effects to achieve the proper slow burn. Their two performances at the recent Autechre-curated All Tomorrow's Parties festival in England were certainly some of the highlights of the event. Sunn O))) performed in Grimm robes, in front of a huge stack of ultraloud speakers, flanked on the left and right by live tape editors, and augmented by guest vocalists. For their first performance, the legendary Julian Cope joined Anderson and O'Malley to perform spoken-word poetry over the loud drones. For Sunn O)))'s second show, Odinist Runhild Gammelsaeter joined the proceedings, sporting some bizarre Kiss-meets-Wotan face make-up. Runhild performed a series of vocal growls and ululations that focused the magickal energy of the bass and guitar rumbles and shot it out into the crowd. Sunn O)))'s new album title, White1, appears to be a nod to their last album Flight of the Behemoth, which had a completely black cover, and featured no vocals and no guest appearances other than a remix collaboration with Merzbow. For this outing, Sunn O))) attempt to approximate their live shows, with three long tracks featuring the same guest stars that frequently join them live. The first track, "My Wall," features Sunn O)))'s trademark slow motion feedback riffs in the background, while in the foreground Julian Cope does a terrific spoken-word bit that is both ingenius and hilariousa long-form Odinist verse that mythologizes and celebrates Anderson and O'Malley's transcendent wall of guitar drones. The painted up magician Runhild Gammelsaeter guests on the second track "The Gates of Ballard," a 15-minute fuzzy invocation of the sun that goes straight for your cerebral cortex with its mindbending drones. Amazingly, this song actually features drums, a true rarity in the Sunn O))) canon. The third track, ominously entitled "A Shaving of the Horn That Speared You" is the most ambient track on the album, featuring menacing distorted bass rumbles and randomly strummed electric guitar, together with ritualistic vocal intonations that seem to impregnate your mind with dark thoughts. White1 is Sunn O)))'s breakthrough record, effortlessly merging the minimal droning of their early work with a host of like-minded collaborators, who push and expand their sound into their most tantalizingly apocalyptic album yet. - Jonathan Dean
Front 242, "Still & Raw"
XIII Bis Records
There have undoubtedly been a few people waiting for a new release from Front 242 with their combat boots laced up and swimmer goggles strapped on for years now. I was one of them for a while, but after seeing the band live (in the daylight) on the Lollapalooza tour, and after experiencing the redundant fodder that was Headhunter 2000 years later, I was pretty sure the best thing for the aging electronic dance music pioneers was a quick amputation to stop their catalog from bleeding to death. Now, the group has released an EP and has a full length album on the way amidst a sea of side-projects that demonstrate varied success with remaining relevant in the post-glitch landscape of electronica. Happily, Still & Raw isn't the calamity I was bracing for. The first thing to notice is that Front 242 have mellowed with age, and quite gracefully if the tracks "Strobe" and "Loud" are any indication. The pulsating beats and sing-a-long chants are gone, but 242's knack for a simple electro melody is still apparent as the synths take center stage. Front 242 have always been handy with a bass line and the same holds true for the EP opener, "7Rain." The percussion is mostly tweaked and minimal, but brings the rest of the group's sound up-to-date, while sampled beats and muted pianos bring some new timbres to the palette. Front 242 are not the innovators they once were (listen to Geography and tell me THAT wasn't ahead of its time), but they still stand above the crowd when it comes to writing real songs and crafting sounds with a fine attention to detail. Jean Luc De Meyer's thick accent will be a welcome, if nostalgic anchor for old 242 fans. It's actually fun to hear him back on top of music that he was born to sing over. There's even a tenderness in the vocal part on "7Rain (GHost)" that demonstrates an attempt to take the music to new places, and that's refreshing. There are so many bands left over, even today, that are rehashing the best parts of Official Version and Front By Front but the men who wrote those songs and gave birth to what would later be casually known as "EBM" have left most of the cliche behind. Still & Raw isn't liable to turn the heads of those firmly glued to Mille Plateaux and Rephlex platters, but It's a worthwhile effort from an old standby that warrants a listen if you were a fan and at least a glimpse if you weren't.Matthew Jeanes
Asa-Chang & Junray, "Tsu Gi Ne Pu"
The Leaf Label
This new mini-album by Asa-Chang & Junray doesn't point to a new direction for the group, but rather brilliantly confirms that the audaciously original musical experimentation heard on last year's Song Chang was far from a fluke. Percussionist Asa-Chang, tabla master U-Zhaan and programmer Hidehiko Urayama have produced another masterful album in the spirit of kidoairaku, loosely translated as "anything is possible." Kidoairaku is a peculiarly Japanese approach to composition, where disparate elements are put together in an exciting, dramatic way that is as vital and immediate as pop music. Tsu Gi Ne Pu contains five tracks that encompass some of the myriad of possiblities offered by this approach. The first track 'Toremoro" utilizes sampled sound effects from the original Star Trek series - the chirp of the transporter, the whoosh of the automatic doors, the birdsong of the communication devices. Soon, a lulling shakahuchi melody is joined by the ever-present tabla. Five minutes in, the trademark tabla singing begins, this time edited to hyperrhythmic precision by Urayama's laptop expertise. This song is an exciting auditory experience, best experienced on an expensive set of headphones. 'Tsuginepu to Ittemita' is made up of high-pitched electronic drones, with more of the phonetic, staccato singing from Yoshimi P-We of The Boredoms. 'Xylophone' is the rare instance of an Asa-Chang and Junray song that you can actually sing along to. For its three-minute running time, Asa-Chang and Junray manage to reign in all of their random, abstract tendencies to produce an supremely catchy pop song. 'Kaikyo' matches a plaintive trumpet melody with field recordings of the ocean, and builds to a shattering climax reminiscent of Ennio Morricone on several tabs of Japanese acid. The disc closes with the short 'Kutsu No. 3', a slight piece featuring a sad trumpet, hypnotic harmonium and a playful chorus of digital blips and birdcalls. Fast forward ten minutes to an eight-minute hidden track with Yoshimi and Asa-Chang counting in Japanese against a background of shrill digital arpeggios. Tsu Gi Ne Pu is a worthy follow up to Song Chang, and it makes me wish that there were more artists on the scene today that made high-concept experimentation this exciting and listenable. - Jonathan Dean
Caitlin Cary, "I'm Staying Out"
On her last album, Caitlin Cary displayed a more folk/rock/country hybrid sound than her fans were used to. True, mostly that was due to the differences in her sound from her former band Whistkeytown: the absence of Ryan Adams' trademark wail and the switch of Cary from background to lead vocals. She also seemed to want a more roots sound than Adams did, as he went more rock and she went more folk after Whiskeytown's demise. She wasn't without Adams on While You Weren't Looking, though, as he appeared on the bonus disc. This time, Cary went it alone, sort of, as she and her band came off the road with some bold new songs and went right in to the studio with Chris Stamey. The results shown on I'm Staying Out are a return to form for Cary, as she rocks out more, but the whole album is stronger than anything she's done yet, period. Cary seems more comfortable in the leading role, and the appearance of Mary Chapin Carpenter gives her a bit more credibility. It's the songs, though, that are the real strength, as Cary has found a key group of musicians and songwriters that are guaranteed to create sparks. Bittersweet is still the primary flavor, with songs like "Sleepin' in on Sunday," and "I Want to Learn to Waltz With You," mixed with "Please Break My Heart," and the title track, which is about knowing when it's time to move on even though your partner is expecting you to walk through the door. It's not a perfect record for Cary yet, though, as most of the songs, while pleasant to listen to at first, are utterly forgettable on repeat listens. A few, though, hit the mark and stay there, like "You Don't Have to Hide," "Cello Girl," and "Please Break My Heart." It's on these where Cary gets in touch with classic country through a modern lens, and that's what makes it so stunning. She's improving, and there's no doubt she'll blow us away sooner or later, unlike Adams, who seems to get more and more discombobulated. Hopefully we won't have to wait too much longer for Cary to amaze us once and for all. - Rob Devlin
Various Artists, "Columbia Princeton Electronic Music Center 1961-1973"
With the electronic music explosion of the 90s came a growth of interest in older electronic music and therefore an opportunity for more CDs of that material to be published. Sometimes these CDs make for good listening but when not they still often make valuable reference works, documents of techniques and their pioneers and occasionally brilliant time-capsules of a lost zeitgeist when making experimental music was actually progressive. Columbia Princeton Electronic Music Center 1961-1973 is firmly in the reference section, with works from six composers who worked in that studio over the years. Bülent Arel's "Postlude from 'Music for a Sacred Service,'" is an avalanche of bleepy sounds with such an old-fashioned space-age sound that it reminds me a bit of Laika. It could have been used theme tune on a weekly radio science magazine program. Charles Dodge's "The Earth's Magnetic Field," originally released on a Nonesuch LP with a fabulous cover photo, has long been considered a computer music landmark but I do wonder if anyone enjoys listening to it. It is based on a single-line melody that for musical purposes is essentially random and Dodge rendered it in 1971 using computer synthesis. As a technical experiment it represents a big step forwards but today it sounds like random data being sent to a ragged old monophonic midi synth. Îlhan Mimaroglu's elegiac "Prelude No. 8 (To the memory of Edgar Varèse)," assembled out of the sounds of a harpsichord and a celeste, appropriately has a genuinely uneasy and unresolved tension. Inspired by Ussachevsky and early minimalism, Ingram Marshall based his "Cortez," on the tragic poem of the same name by Snee McCaig. Much to my surprise it is the high point of the CD. In the middle the poem is read and the "Oh..." opening its fourth line is the sonic source for all of the music, repeating over and over with various modifications. The atmosphere seems to convey the menace in the prophesy in the Aztec culture that contributed to their downfall at the hands of Hernan Cortez. The other contributions are by Daria Semegen and Alice Shields. The booklet contains much technical information that may be of interest to electro archeologists. - Tom Worster
TOMMY GUERRERO, "SOUL FOOD TAQUERIA"
San Francisco skateboarding legend and multi-instrumentalist (how's that for a resume?) Tommy Guerrero's latest full length disc is a cool blend of latin-jazz and funk grooves with a DJ culture type of feel while showcasing his solid guitar playing and knack for composing and arranging. Building on laid-back breakbeat samples, tracks such as "Organism," "It Gets Heavy," and "Thin Brown Layer," fatten up with electric bass, the odd keyboard and multi-tracked guitars to provide some great riffs and underplayed soloing which give off an impression of a controlled jam session that doesn't stray much from the intended groove. The gentle bossa nova feel of "Thank You MK" lays the groundwork for bright sounding bass and warm sounding, jazzy guitars to provide some simple yet beautiful chord progressions that in the overall setting come across as being very meaningful. Less is definitely more. The more traditional latin rhythms and instruments of "Lost Unfound" cement the tune's groove for syncopated bass lines and choppy guitar to move through minor sounding changes that subtly build tension throughout repetition. Although Guerrero has a couple of guest drummers and vocalists (most notably Lyrics Born), he plays all the instruments throughout the disc's seventeen tracks; very convincingly. - Gord Fynes
Daniel Lanois, "Shine"
Though he's the producer of some of the most successful mainstream albums ever, Daniel Lanois' own music has been decidedly left of center. On previous albums, he's made otherworldly sounds escape from the speakers, dancing and grooving on occasion with the needs of the human condition. As a producer, Lanois has always succeeded in bringing across the best in any artist. On this, his first album for Epitaph's Anti label, he finally succeeds in bringing out the best in himself. It seems independent music is becoming more like independent film in the sense that the directors who make edgy films that garner notice but not an audience start making lower cost, artistic fare. Lanois, one of the keynote speakers at SXSW this year, is the perfect front runner for a similar movement for producer/musicians, and this album is a good start. The first two tracks, "I Love You," and "Falling at Your Feet," are pure love, pure need, pure beauty. They feature Emmylou Harris and Bono, respectively, so they are also the more mainstream songs on the album. This is perfect Lanois formula material: write the music yourself, sing most of it, but bring in the heavy hitters to nail it to the wall and make it art. After these two tracks, though, Lanois is left to his own devices, where he's showed promise before but could never soar. Soar he does, and it's mostly due to the band. He has the right players in Daryl Johnson, Brian Blade, and Malcolm Burn, and his voice has never sounded so grounded and earthy. On the title track, "Sometimes," and "Slow Giving," he sounds like a minstrel with all his dreams intact and the experience of the ages. The instrumentals show off the musicianship that we're used to from his soundtrack work and guest work on other artists' albums, but there is a cohesion that was only hinted at before. The album is a real success for Lanois, and hopefully he can finally find the audience he deserves. - Rob Devlin
Instrumentals Staedtizism 3
Stefan Betke's excellent ~scape label has been quickly building a catalog around an almost singular fascination with filtered sounds. Branching off from Pole's warped vision of dub for dust particles, the label's releases have been nothing if not consistent in their approach to not-quite-danceable but still beat-oriented music. Staedtizism 3 offers what is perhaps the label's first real peek from behind the low pass curtain. Drawing on the rhythms and structures of hip hop rather than the jazz, dub, and micro-house influence of previous ~scape releases, this collection manages to incorporate the familiar ~scape vocabulary of muted melodic fragments and hissing beats into a new contextural framework. Cappablack even offers the comp some vocal cuts and genuine glitch-hop beat twisting that jumps off the disc like a Funstorung remix cued up in an otherwise laid-back downtempo mix. Likewise, Kit Clayton turns the filters and echo effects off and renders a hard-wired, disjointed jam with simple, soft chords that are swallowed by gurgling vocal splatter. John Tejada steps outside the ~scape box with scratching and fractured voices spilling out over an otherwise straightforward beat. Elsewhere, the collection covers much of the same beat-up, angular approach to digi-sliced hip hop featured on Dub Records 2001 compilation, Men With Boxes and other similar forays into the genre. While more of these tracks are fun for car rides, folks who have already amassed a collection of glitchy hip hop instrumentals from other labels may find Staedtizism 3 a bit redundant. Nevertheless, ~scape appear to be breaking out of their own, strictly defined box, if just for a moment, to offer the world a new kind of beat box for a new melinnium.- Matthew Jeanes
Rjd2, "The Horror EP"
DJ/Producer Rjd2's 2002 debut album, Dead Ringer, showed his talents for hip-hop beats and instrumental soundscapes to make catchy, danceable, yet intelligent music. Captializing on the success of the album, Def Jux has released this 2-CD EP of remixes and new tracks, with the second disc featuring multimedia content. The remix CD is a tricky issue these days. It used to be the bastion of alternate mixes and guest appearances, where these days it's usually just filler to tide fans over until the next record. Because of that fear, I can see why someone would be pressed to spend eighteen bucks on this, and it seems Rjd2 himself agrees, calling it "not even an album" in the thanks section of the liner notes. True fans will find some things interesting here, particularly the live DJ sets from the Beta Lounge and the Bowery Ballroom, and the animated video for the title track. As for the music section, this is really what a remix EP should be like, as the remixes are almost reinterpretations. The title track makes its appearance to start off, as is customary, and then the party really gets started. The "Ghostwriter Remix" is beat heavy and groovier, with keyboards taking the lead. The real treat is in the middle with a new guitar line and the same horns and vocal refrain making it a great club track or fine driving music. The "Final Frontier Remix" features some nice rhyme skills from multiple MCs with new beats and samples from Rjd2, though the repeated "We're HERE!" gets old the second time it's heard, just like the original. The new tracks of "Bus Stop Bitties," and "Sell the World" are real treats, as they're just two great tracks with top-notch beats and great grooves that are more David Holmes than Rjd2. The instrumentals are just filler, sure, but they're great to drive down the street to impress, or to throw in your own ingredients if you're a DJ yourself. All in all, this is not a bad value with all things considered, and the packaging is really cool. - Rob Devlin
The Liaisons Dangereuses LP is something of a sought-after, hard-to-find gem, but only among a select group of retro-beat enthusiasts and postpunk dance collectors, and certainly not the music community at large. This is not a very important or influential album in the grand scheme of things, mostly because of its near-total obscurity. Liasons Dangereuses is made up of Chris Haas, who played synths for post-punk industrial innovators DAF, and Beate Bartel, the bassist for the pre-Malaria female punk trio Mania D. They named themselves after Roger Vadim's sexy film adaptation of the seminal erotic novel of 18th century France. Their goal was to make darkly erotic electronic dance music that would be redolent of 18th century Paris, with its shadowy absinthe bars, decadent dance clubs, and general attitude of sexual liberation. For the most part, they succeeded, and in the process they laid down an early template for most of the industrial and [a-hem] EBM dance music that would follow throughout the 80's. The album opens with "Mystere dans le Brouillard" (transl: Mystery in the Fog), which combines a Joy Division bassline with a clanging beat, and gothic cabaret-styled vocals by Haas. The song is filled with processed windchimes and shrill noises that evoke the creepy atmosphere of Paris after dark. Things get a little more high energy with the minor underground dance hit "Los Ninos del Parque" (Children of the Park), where a menacing Georgio Moroder beat shares space with Haas' barked lyrics and Bartel's incoherent shrieks. The telltale heartbeat of "Aperitif de la Mort" ('Cocktail of Death') comes on like an absinthe hallucination, with its creepy alien synths and atonal metal scrapings. This track is immediately reminiscent of Death in June's early synthesizer-based works. The only other track that really stands out is "Peut etre...Pas," an irresistably funky track that avoids the goth posturing of the rest of the album and find its way into avant-disco territory. This is true Mutant Disco - an unholy marriage of Larry Levan, Arthur Russell and Cabaret Voltaire. - Jonathan Dean
The Musique Concrete Ensemble, "Disonancias y Repeticiones Ambiguas"
When Robert Muso's first CD came out my felling was that it would have been kinder if Laswell had discouraged his sound engineer from crossing to the other side. But rather than being electronic ambience, The Musique Concrete [sic] Ensemble—sound engineer Raphael Irisarri's project—is high-gloss post-rock ambience for Tortoise fans. At times it aims at plaintive repeated guitar melodies and hits home in exactly the way some post-rock does, that is, it seems to be saying that being able to write a decent melody (like, say, GBYE can) isn't important. Now, it's true that you don't have to have much of a voice to be a great singer, but that's a limitation of technique—it's quite another thing to use technique and production to try and bring life to a dead melody. It's exactly the same problem with the rock-oriented drum machine tracks; the programmer seems not to understand what it is that makes good rock drumming good. Stravinsky ditched his highly effective washes of strings fairly early, arguing that they are too easy and manipulative. Today, the same issue often applies to the not-quite-endemic washes of reverberated guitar, synths and vocals; or the not-quite-obligatory background sound effects and samples folk use to fill out their music. Add to these the not-quite-ubiquitous hidden last track, the detailed listing of archaic electronic instruments, the retro package design, and the Stockhausen, Ussachevsky and La Monte Young name drops (and much besides) from their web site and I think we have the clue to the project's real intent. Normally, these elements would be entirely irrelevant except for marketing purposes. Their overuse by both The MCE and Irisarri's label ECO, rather than being an indication of a bad case of fashion victim syndrome, is, somewhat like the K-Foundation, a post-modern prank aimed at seeing how far they can push semiotics-based merchandising before their post-whatever audience catches on. That said, I admit to being entirely taken in by the cover art. - Tom Worster
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