Richard H. Kirk Meets The Truck Bombers of Suburbia, "Uptown Vol 1," feat. Pat Riot
Throughout 2004, the typically prolific Richard H. Kirk dug deep into his vault, releasing several discs and twelve inches of previously unavailable solo material. Still, after 2003's politically charged albums The War Against Terrorism and The Bush Doctrine, likeminded fans seemed eager for more new work amidst the increasingly bloody Iraq quagmire and the rhetoric-heavy U.S. presidential election campaigns. Thankfully, Kirk's creative juices and frustration with the state of the world birthed this diverse yet cohesive collection of forward-thinking music from the former Cabaret Voltaire member. Though the title is an overt nod to King Tubby, Kirk doesn't let that restrict him from showcasing work encompassing various genre influences, regularly within the same song. The opener, titled "The Truck Bombers Of Suburbia", exhibits this eclecticism at its most extreme, with awkwardly looped and heavily effected samples of classic rock, funk, and dub abruptly clashing with one another. Previously released as a 12" single, the grinding quasi-dancehall track "Who's Afraid (Of The Red White And Blue)" sets the tone for this largely nasty, aggressive album and introduces listeners to vocalist Pat Riot, who I can only assume is yet another entry in Kirk's lengthy list of pseudonyms. (Rather than confuse readers further, Kirk and Riot will be treated as separate entities for the duration of the review.) Riot's distorted voice can also be heard growling midway through the handclap-heavy dark techno number "Smoke Em Out," a reference to George W. Bush's blunt yet unsuccessful approach to dealing with Al Qaeda in Afghanistan. "Goat Dub Reaction" mixes Middle Eastern melodies and keyboard strings and pulses over looped hand percussion rhythms, with the occasional vocal from Riot. On "Desert Rhumba," Kirk updates the classic Sheffield bleep sound he helped define, with a gritty synth riff driving a litany of furious protest chants. "Heart And Mind Of Dub" closes things out with a relatively traditional dub groove, its instrumentation augmented with liberal use of echo chamber delay and even a noisy remnant from earlier on the album. Despite the diverse influences represented here, this is a remarkably complete release, with the vocals effectively holding several tracks together that may have seemed too different otherwise. As an eager follower of Kirk's recent output, I can say that this is his most accessible album in some time, and the best so far of his post-9/11 work. I cannot help but wonder what would happen if only other electronic artists, particularly those of the younger generation, would follow his lead and use their music to speak against injustice, hypocrisy, or whatever specific issue concerns them. Call me what you will, but if this is the type of music that war and right-wing global politics can spawn, then we need a lot more of it. Get cracking, people. - Gary Suarez
Thalia Zedek, "Trust Not Those In Whom Without Some Touch Of Madness"
Thalia Zedek is a true original, with a voice hewed by years on the road fronting aggressive outfits, her musical stylings born out of influence but still uniquely hers. Her latest is a dynamo: a strong step forward on a new label and a powerful piece of work overall. Recorded at the godspeed-famous Hotel2Tango in Montreal, these songs represent the natural coagulation of the performer to her backing band after two years of touring. The album was recorded and mixed in eleven days, utilizing only analog recording techniques, so there was little room for error. It appeared not to make any difference, as the core group plays seamlessly, with a force that defies description. Zedek's voice is in fine form, as usual, and the musicians drive on without reservation as she digs deep within to pull out some refreshingly honest and personal subjects. Since the dissolution of Come, Zedek seems to have delighted in taking chances here and there, displaying a willingness to explore or stab towards something besides pure bombast. On these songs, the explosiveness starts to win again, as the mournful instrumentation grows in volume and density, and her cries rise to meet it all. "Ship" starts the record in a slower vein, but it is not to last, as the song suddenly shifts into a modified shuffle, with plaintive suggestions to one about how to proceed with life. Everything slows at the end again, almost as a release: with these words off one's chest, the calm returns. But each song returns to plumb the same territory, with slower somber moments being blown away by the strength and weight of the music and the words that follow them, right up until the shrieking distortion of "Hell is in Hello." Even when it seems like it's been sung by Zedek before, even earlier on the same album, all is forgiven as it is still a pure, raw and honest performance. Most of all that is Thalia Zedek's mark: she is herself, through and through, and that invitation into her innermost thoughts is getting more and more dangerous and thrilling as the years go on. - Rob Devlin
MASTER MUSICIANS OF BUKKAKE, "THE VISIBLE SIGN OF THE INVISIBLE ORDER"
The Master Musicians of Bukkake take their name from the famous 2,000-plus-year-old Moroccan band, replacing the traditional "Joujouka" with "Bukkake," a Japanese term for a particularly vile form of pornography, which I won't describe here, except to say that in involves a large group of men doing something rather humiliating to one woman. This particular musical collective hails from the Pacific Northwest, and has close ties to the Sun City Girls; both Alan Bishop and Charlie Gocher make guest appearances, and the album is released on SCG's own Abduction label. Like a lot of bands lazily being lumped in under the heading of New Weird America, MMOB focus on free improvisation and play with the idea of a hippie drum circle, moving between areas of dissonance and chaos, to long passages of cohesive ensemble playing. The Visible Sign of the Invisible Order comes in 15 separate tracks that have been joined together into one long, amorphous musical ritual. And the emphasis here is on ritual, with much of the music drawing from a Westerner's conception of Middle and Far Eastern ceremonial musical forms, from Moroccan joujouka to Japanese taiko, from the most hidden Sufi order to the most profane and obvious ethnological forgeries. Like much of SCG's best work, there is no distinction made between high and low art here, and a shambling sense of joyous group improvisation negates any sense of that sleazy cultural imperialism often found in the "World Music" section of your local record store. MMOB achieves a righteous sense of psychedelic, ritualized improvisation that is dynamic, hypnotic and substantive, as if the musicians on Paradieswarts Duul had decided to channel the entire Sublime Frequencies catalog into one hour-long improvisation. Schuller and the collective (which includes the superlative Eyvind Kang on electric violin) attack a multitude of instruments, largely percussive in nature, with all players utilizing their voices in a nonverbal, intuitively Eastern way. Though I doubt any of the mantric recitations and chanting found on the record represent anything other than meaningless glossolalia, the MMOB are incredibly good at building tension and drama with their melding voices, creating an invisible ritual chamber in which the music exists. Much of this music was recorded outdoors, with the coastal and interior forest acoustics lending an ancient, timeless quality to the music. Scattered among the 15 tracks are several well-placed moments of climactic explosiveness, most notably on the slyly named "Access of Evil," which reaches a hair-raising crescendo of ululations and monolithic tribal percussion. "Pillow of Green Light" apparently attempts to recreate the Dogon tribe's creation myth, with a terrifyingly chaotic swirl of noise and electronics, the soundtrack of a pre-Babylonian alien abduction deep in the heart of Africa. The repetitive firing of a 9mm firearm on "Custody's Last Battle/Secret Wars" evokes the slaughter of Native Americans, forging a secret jihad. The album ends with absolutely lovely "Circular and Made of the Earth," which combines high-lonesome steel guitar (or is it sitar?) with female vocals, floating on a rich backdrop of deep, reverberating aums and harmonic drones. My only complaint with this album is the botched packaging job, piss-poor four-color process having rendered the cover photo and liner notes completely unintelligible. Musically, however, the MMOB have created a true masterpiece, one that entirely transcends the collective's unfortunate choice of name. - Jonathan Dean
Andrew Liles, "My Long Accumulating Discontent"
The most important and pleasing aspect of Andrew Liles' latest full-length is that it doesn't depend on any one formula, nor does it ever venture into the realm of total and complete chaotic madness. At times the music is wonderfully melodic, featuring ballroom-like music circa 1930s or 1940s and, at other times, it is an admixture blossoming with strange digital reverberations and analogue distortion. Most notably, however, My Long Accumulating Discontent features intelligible vocal parts and nearly unedited instrumental passages. His music is ever-expanding and finding new modes of existence. There is no sense here in talking about drones or noise. Though the music can be a collage of random samples and instruments at times, this record also features a queer and convincing logic that stems from its almost antique sound. Tracks like "Dissolved (Te Whare Ao Aitu)" and "The Sour Accompaniment" make a direct appeal to antiquity and play on the notion that these songs are all part of some morbid dream set far in the past; almost like Tim Burton's vision of America at the turn of the century. On the other hand, there are soft and fluid pieces such as "The Children's Infirmary or Precious and Sugar Foot" and "A Cold Spring in Summerland" that play off less familiar sounds and structures. While sounding distinct and perhaps more inviting than their musical neighbors, they ooze an aroma woven out of dust, old age, and memories better forgotten. I have an inkling of an idea that there is some form of a band environment behind these seventeen trackssaxophones, nervous cymbals, melodic vocal parts, and narrative elements all play a part in various placesand there is, periodically, a very direct and uplifting song structure that stands out among the other pieces without being a show-stealer. I doubt Liles is forming a familiar band whatsoever, but the music that's ushered forth from his mind and those of the musicians used on this album is undoubtedly more structured and mesmerizing than anything else I've heard from him. Despite this, he's also managed to maintain the haunting, demonic, and perverse demeanor that makes his music so unique and alluring. It's the addition of new sounds and structures to his music plus his ability to manipulate those structures that make this record stand out so sharply in my collection. Songs like "An Unkempt Garden or the Cod Cape" and "The Captain's Apprentice" are the most emotionally stunning songs I've heard come from Liles and it is in their shape and movements that they become so remarkable. It's a shame that I missed this record in 2004, it deserves a great deal of attention as it is one of the most exciting records I've heard from the realm of all music subconscious and spectral. - Lucas Schleicher
Guilty Connector, "Cosmic Trigger/2AM Visit"
The aural assault unleashed on Cosmic Trigger/2AM Visit is nothing short of a head cleansing catharsis of the best kind. Japan's Kohei-chang (AKA Filthy Dabo) uses homemade electronics and scrap metal to assault the senses on his third full length release. Although the CD only release is split into two halves as if it were a vinyl LP ("Side Cosmic Trigger" and "Side 2AM Visit"), it is very much a unified work on which the even the track titles seem incidental. One of the highlights is the nearly 16 minute live workout "Brighter Than 10,000 Cacophonous Suns." During this number, Kohei sounds as if he is rummaging through a pile of scrap metal while an overloaded microphone produces ear-splitting feedback trying to capture the action. The credit given to clearly audible "screaming and drunk noise fans" alludes to audience and performer having a grand old time wreaking sonic havoc together. "Rock Me," a track originally included on an ABBA tribute album, proves that Throbbing Gristle's Chris Carter is not the only experimentalist with a fondness for the Swedish disco outfit. Filthy Dabo's admiration goes far enough to require him to end his blistering feedback massacre 30 seconds before the end of the track, so that he can whistle along to ABBA on the radio for its duration. Throughout the album he covers both ends of the sonic spectrum, as exemplified by the high pitched feedback and intense low end rumble that are both prominent during "Rock Me." Moments of respite are few throughout the 43 minute set, but there are some sections of relative calm. "Stabbed Straw Puppet" fades in slowly before the gradual accumulation of harsh feedback loops commences. The final two minutes of album closer "2AM Visit" consists of the sound of water dripping into a bucket. "Roulette" features samples of voices, a rewinding tape machine, and other found elements juxtaposed with blasts of sharp noise. This track stands out among the all-out noise tracks as having an almost musique concrete feel. This use of different approaches points to possible directions in which he could steer the project in the future. This is not an album for all occasions, but is a perfect choice for when one is the mood to be dominated by sound. - Jim Siegel
EYVIND KANG AND TUCKER MARTINE, "ORCHESTRA DIM BRIDGES"
Eyvind Kang is the avant-garde violinist whose work can be heard on albums by a multitude of artists including Secret Chiefs 3, John Zorn, Bill Frisell, Beck, Marc Ribot and Arto Lindsay. He has also released a handful of solo albums that are each more impressive than the next, culminating in last year's majestic Virginal Co-ordinates. Tucker Martine is a producer and sound recordist, responsible for the critically lauded Broken Hearted Dragonflies: Insect Electronica from Southeast Asia and a number of other projects too various to mention. Orchestra Dim Bridges is their first collaborative album, even though they've worked together on past projects. The album is not quite what I might have initially expected from the two. I was thinking of something along the lines of improvisation on the violin from Kang with production flourishes and field recordings from Martine. What they've done instead is altogether more calculated, a unique sort of instrumental post-rock album that throws everything including the kitchen faucet into the mix, throwing everything at the wall and seeing what sticks. There is a definite lack of any immutable formula here; one track might be a simple guitar melody with shuffling beats; another a chamber quartet obscured by digitally textured surface noise; and another a dizzying assemblage of laptop spliced snippets of audio drawn from instrumental performances, field recordings and ethnic plunderphonia. Tucker Martine has a clear predilection for busy, overworked arrangements full of minute audio details, evidenced by tracks such as "Baseer Ornamental," in which a rather lovely Oriental violin melody is constantly upstaged by Martine's galaxy of spliced-in effects. This eclecticism, while interesting at first, eventually becomes tiring, and by the end of this brief album I was left feeling somewhat shortchanged. Although he is undeniably talented, Martine reminds me of the dissatisfied painter who keeps returning to a finished canvas, adding little background touches here and there, until the painting is completely overwhelmed with superfluous decoration and has to be scrapped. It's the producer's job to know when to step back and let the music stand, and save for a couple of tracks, Orchestra Dim Bridges sounds like a hyperactive child set loose in a sound library with a pair of electric shears and a tub of epoxy, which unsurprisingly does not yield very interesting results. - Jonathan Dean
Early Day Miners, "All Harm Ends Here"
Early Day Miners have this odd quality of meticulously recalling a very specific mid-90s, Midwestern emo/indie sound, though slowing it to a near halt. It's as though the Miners spelunked their way to some fossilized sound from the Polyvinyl/Tree/Caulfield label nexus of 1996 and successfully unearthed it, thawed it, and unleashed it, albeit at a slower tempo (perhaps the lethargy can be attributed to a near decade-long hibernation). Bands like Giants Chair, Cap'n Jazz, American Football, Compound Red, Boys Life, and Braid are reference points for the sound with which the Miners flirt. In fact, vocalist Dan Burton's baritone sounds similar to Braid's Bob Nanna. Both have a stony and primitive sound, unmolested by the effects of any formal training. It's hard to tell if Burton's voice (or Nanna's, for that matter) is pleasant or not, but it does give shape and substance to what would otherwise be music pretty enough to be heard, but not forceful enough to be compelling. The more perspicacious listener will realize that the band is actually from the Midwest (Bloomington, Indiana: home of the Hoosiers and the town which kindly lent itself to the simple beauties of "Breaking Away") and that Burton was once in Ativin, a cohort in the legion which made the initial assault for the prenominate mid-90s, Midwestern sound. So the appropriation of the sound is less from appreciation than actual practice. "Errance" has an archetypal Midwestern sound trope: at the inception of the chorus, the tempo slows and the instrumentation falls away and evaporates, leaving only the lightly brushed snare drum, the softly enunciated vocals, and the sparingly plucked guitar. The guitar is almost an afterthought. The song's title is curious since the Miners are anything but errant. The guitars hover and swirl in orbits which revolve around each other, attracted by some musical centripetal force and never shooting off in an unforeseen exit velocity. They might meander, but they never get lost. Speaking of guitars, they are what the band does best. The Miners write intricate, delicate, and lovely guitar parts which fit together seamlessly. The band is expert at crafting catchy six-stringed melodies, almost overshadowing or overpowering the rhythm section. It certainly doesn't help that the rhythm section is never seriously challenged by any of the songs. Actually, "Comfort/Guilt" approaches something close to rhythmic complexity. Playful drumming mixes with cascading guitars which teeter off the edges of notes, threatening to fall into a cavernous abyss. "Precious Blood" also percolates promisingly for a few short-lived instrumental minutes but soon enough recedes into the next track, "We Know In Part," a more typical slow drawl from the Miners' canon. Transitions such as this show that the Miners are content to pick-axe their way along quite deliberately, remaining in shafts where it is dark, where everything moves a little slower, and where the threat of black lung is everywhere. When the Miners do poke their heads above ground, the sunlight is blinding and they quickly duck down again, comfortable in their Midwestern and midterranean realm. - Joshua David Mann
Brian Williams has been operating as Lustmord for more than 20 years now, churning out an impressive number of albums, all of which have been classified, for want of a better term, "dark ambient." Not that it's an inappropriate term for what Williams does, creating rhythm-free soundscapes that evoke an oppressive atmosphere of loneliness, desolation and dread. Though his work is understandably lumped in with his industrial cohorts SPK and Scorn, it actually has a lot more in common with the spacescapes of Tangerine Dream or the pioneering ambient work of Popol Vuh. Brian Williams is a consummate engineer and producer as well, and throughout his career has taken advantage of the latest technology to increase the presence and richness of his uniquely textural audio environments. 1990's Heresy was a definite high point in a career of high points for Lustmord, and Soleilmoon has just reissued the album in a nice digipack with a new re-master overseen by Williams himself. Heresy is an hour-long mind trip into massive, cavernous expanses of subterranean rock, into dark recesses filled with a sense of slow, abiding dread. Broken into six pieces each more consuming than the next, Heresy has a narrative arc from beginning to end, as Williams penetrates deeper and deeper chambers of bedrock, coming closer to the bubbling magma and frozen expanses of wasteland at the center of a dying star. Buried beneath the yawning industrial maw of these turgid reverberations and time-stretched, strangled screams are disquieting audio details: a convocation of monstrous Lovecraftian entities devouring the flesh of a corpse and releasing ancient, foul belches into the cold, stagnant air; the deep, bellowing laugh of a murderous tyrant standing victorious over the bones of his enemies; a muffled cry of terror from the center of an immense electrical storm. Williams wields his electronics with an ear towards audio environments that envelop the listener, slowly but surely canceling all thought and focusing the attention on this immersive dronescape. Lustmord albums appeal to the same part of my brain that finds inexhaustible enjoyment in the darkest of heavy metal, from Black Sabbath and Judas Priest to Slayer, Mayhem, Burzum and Sunn O))). Like any of the aforementioned artists, Lustmord's penchant for the shadow side of reality always runs the danger of digressing into unconscious self-parody, but if listened to in the right frame of mind, Heresy is powerful stuff. - Jonathan Dean
Die Tödliche Doris, "Kinderringellreihen Für Wahren Toren Des Grals"
Käthe Kruse, Wolfgang Müller, and Nikolaus Utermöhlen formed something like a band in 1980 and began producing all kinds of awkward sound collages, pounding rhythmic pieces, and just plain silly exhibitions. Whether or not they can truly be considered a band is hazy, but Psychedelic Pig's release of Nursery Rhymes for True Fools of the Grail contains twenty pieces of audio that were either ridiculously rare ("Schöne Musik" appeared in an edition of twenty copies on cassette) or never released at all. A majority of the tracks are live performances featuring outlandish clarinet solos, haphazard and drunken blurts of brass-noise, and a good deal of shouting. After listening to the album beginning to end, and without repeating certain tracks of particular beauty, this document of an obscure and somehow mesmerizing band has completely won my heart. It is true that some information about the band makes some of the tracks more amusing (for instance, The Deadly Doris hired a three strangers on a couple of occasions to fill in for them live; during the concert cards were handed out that informed the audience that The Deadly Doris were "being seen on stage in a foreign body"), but many of these songs stand up on their own. "M..Rökk: Rhythmus im Blut" and "Der Tod ist ein Skandal" are incredibly vicious and nearly catchy pieces of metal destruction set around the opening scenes of 2001: A Space Odyssey while other tracks, like "Naturkatastrophenkonzert," seem to be on the disc merely for historical reasons. Of interest to some might be the appearance of Blixa Bargeld on one track and a concert recording from a double bill with SPK. Whether or not SPK actually performs on the track is anyone's guess. So much of this could easily be dismissed as pure noise wankery, but there's an atypical beauty in a lot of these pieces; something about the raw and unfinished feel of the whole album makes it a hundred times more enjoyable than a lot of the studio work I've heard coming from contemporary noise-mongers. "Der Letzte Walzer," primarily a noise collage, features a trio of easy-listening musicians playing in the background. The meshing of these two styles of music, oddly enough, sticks out in my mind. It's just that sort of surrealist approach to the music that makes this record so enjoyable. - Lucas Schleicher
Secret Mommy, "Hawaii 5.0"
This 17 minute EP belongs to a rare breed of musical projects: the concept project that is not overblown or pretentious. Perhaps the brevity helps this cause, as Hawaii 5.0 is the perfect length to visit the islands without feeling trapped there. Each of the five tracks represents a different aspect of the Hawaiian experience, as filtered through Ache label owner Andy Dixon's sense of composition. "The Drink" begins with samples of folks slurping down beverages undoubtedly served with little umbrellas included. On this track Dixon ingeniously incorporates the rhythmic sounds of ice cubes clinking around in drinking glasses into the bouncy beat. Throughout the EP he captures the feeling of being far from everyday worries, as if during the course of the program one is traveling around this popular vacation destination. The sound of birds weaving in and out of the rhythms on "The Beach" similates the experience of such creatures circling overhead while one is at a beach. The rapid cut-up snippets heard during opener "The Culture," such as vocal fragments ("mahalo"), steel drum patterns, and Hawaiian style guitar playing, attempt to provide an overview of Hawaiian culture while acting as a warped aural welcoming mat. Musically the tracks consist of many tiny bits of found sound, tied together by intricately programmed 4/4 beats. The rhythms are multi-layered and sometimes fall into brief repetitive sections that allow for melodies to sneak in. These melodic sections are highly effective since they are used so sparingly, especially the infectious staccato keyboard melody that is introduced halfway into "The Drink." The Hawaiian theme has rarely been used outside the exotica music genre that it's refreshing to hear it updated so cleverly. - Jim Siegel
The late Bryn Jones was rightly notorious for his extreme prolificacy: a characteristic that incredibly, does not seem to have slowed down at all since his demise in 1999. In addition to the mountains of new music that has been dusted off and released in the past five years, there have also been many reissues of previously limited edition releases, of which Syrinjia is one. This is the third edition of the album, initially released as a limited 12" (containing only the first nine tracks), subsequently released as a limited double CD in a silk bag, and now released as a double CD in a regular jewel case. Typical of a Muslimgauze release, the album is adorned with photos from the Middle East that Bryn Jones never actually visited, even though the region's history, culture and politics obsessed him for his entire career. Even though Jones changed musical directions several times throughout his career, from abstract noise and ambient compositions through to densely layered worldbeat and dance music, there is no absolutely mistaking the Muslimgauze sound: those crisp, powdery beats and ragged, sudden edits; the layers of buried samples from Arabic music; the extreme, trance-inducing repetition. Syrinjia is distinguishable from other 'Gauze releases of this period only because of its unwavering fixation on dub reggae. Jones was, of course, one of the first to draw a straight line between Kingston dub production and Middle Eastern breaks, long before DJ/Rupture started releasing albums. Muslimgauze's dub is a tenser, more violent beast than the average Augustus Pablo or King Tubby side, coming closer to the type of dancehall dub typified by Rootsman or The Bug's Pressure. Fiercely synthetic machine beats built from Jones' usual sound palette are joined by occasional dancehall shoutdowns, weaving Arabic female vocals and random plunges into the echo chamber. There are several standout tracks here, notable for their relative absence of dissonance and aggression, including the thrilling "Detrimental" and "Holy Man." The extra tracks also contain some worthwhile tracks, including the minimal dubwise techno of "Taliban" and "Zindag." Those insane enough to be Muslimgauze completists have doubtless already tracked this album down, but for the casual Gauze listener, Syrinjia would still be a worthy purchase. - Jonathan Dean
Pinback, "Summer In Abaddon"
Touch and Go
After tooling around with their sound on recent releases in search of themselves, Pinback have finally crafted what may be the best slice of indie pop ever created. They've certainly always had the elements right: hook-driven melodies, a playful sensibility, the right effects for the right moments, and a perfect mixture of instruments to choose from track after track. This album is the full realization of the concept and it showsas track after track is stronger than the last, building to a climax that settles in like a lamb more than a lion, drawing absolutely no complaints. Abaddon being the abyss or place of the dead, it's not expected that songs on the record will approach any form of positivity, but they do on occasion, and either way it's a delight coming through the speakers even when they're at their most mellow. The only thing that gets in the way is the sometimes obtuse nature of the lyrics that reach for highfalutin concepts without any real merit. "I missed your monotube" and "Acute angles divide my path that I had lost" may sound cool, but ultimately they are a little much on the simple structures that surround them, and therefore they sound like reaching. The repitition is also a bit trying, but forgiven if the song actually hits the right marks eventually. "Syracuse," for instance, repeats the same two lines until they're almost meaningless, but the driving energy of the song and the many layers that it represents make this null and void. This is almost math rock, as there seems to be some greater formula at play that mere humans can't comprehend. The duo that make up Pinback on record shift styles and tempos with sly skill, all in the name of making pleasant sounds and hummable melodies, even if it sounds more complicated than it is. Whether there is more artifice than art is inconsequential. - Rob Devlin
Lab Waste, "Zwarte Achtegrond"
Lab Waste, the nom de collaboration of Los Angeleans Thavius Beck and Subtitle, have mated the rap set with the digital age on their oddly titled full length debut, Zwarte Achtegrond ("Black Background" in Dutch). Appropriately modern, to make their music they eschew two turntables and a microphone for two Apple G3s and a veritable shopping list of samplers, mixers and gadgets that would be the drooling envy of any A/V club. The resultant electronic influence is so heavy that the instrumentation is barely categorizable as "hip hop"rapid fire hi hats slogging through dense but pedestrian sounds last heard on the Doom soundtrack alternating with something Kraftwerk might have done on the Euro club scene had they worked 30 years later (maybe the title is relevant, or deliberately misconceiving?). The lyrics are at their core well done. Intelligent enough, as complex couplets ("to the detriment of many a derelict/ we come to inject a bit of intellectual impulse/ set to a beat to offset the inimical complaints of the ignorant"), and cerebral syllogisms fly by the ears at a frenetic pace. Being bombarded by heavily distorted voices waxing futuristic over the fate of humanity provies a bit of ironic relief too. But the combination of heavy effects and light-speed pace make the lyrics, a key component of any rap record, all but indecipherable. The instrumentation makes Zwarte Achtegrond too gratingly artificial for a hip hop aficionado, and the dizzingly difficult rapping will distract all but the most dedicated electronic head, potentially alienating both sides of the would-be crossover. The formula clicks just once, with "Get the Signal," a fast paced energetic thumper most notable for its simplicity. On the whole Lab Waste seems to have forgotten an essential ingredient in any hip-hop album, unforgivable if they do portend to have a "Zwarte Achtegrond": there's no soul. Put together with double clicks, and without a single turntable, the album lacks nearly all vestiges of human involvement, a vital element of the hip hop aesthetic. The feel is cold and disconnected, which is probably the point. As a bleak concept album bemoaning the future, then, Zwarte Achtegrond might succeed on some level, but it's not enough to save it from being a tedious genre experiment, mired in confused mediocrity. - Chris Roberts
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