Mono, "Walking Cloud And Deep Red Sky, Flag
Fluttered And The Sun Shined"
Temporary Residence Limited
In describing the sound of Mono's third full-length album it's hard not to invoke a number of bands whom I have nevertheless sworn to eschew in the body of this review. Let it suffice to say that the music is sweeping, anthemic, instrumental, crescendo-heavy, at once deliberately delicate and mindlessly reckless; this much should give you some idea of the musical path on which Mono tread (some might even call it a new path to Helicon, to tell the truth). Despite the surface similarities to a cadre of aphonic groups, Mono have a hook all of their own. They bring to light a very palpable and very realized "music of anxiety" (not to be confused with the anxiety of music, which you might ascribe to John Cage, first and foremost). This music of anxiety masquerades as songs which you might feel comfortable introducing to your parents, who enjoy all of the refinements of classical. In other words, the songs are lovely and accessible. But certain songs are filled with massive building themes and bridges, each one successively getting louder or faster or both. It is in these precise parts where the anxiety lurks. To illustrate, I offer a challenge: try and fall asleep to "Lost Snow," or "16.12," both of which start off innocently enough, lulling any quasi-narcolept into a comfort blanket of promised sleep and placidity. But then the songs evolve. They burst forth. They blossom violently like a flower which does not merely let its petals spread out gently, but rather one which erupts and explodes, sending thick clouds of pollen into the air and leaving its pistils and stamens shaking in the aftershock. Mono's style can be clawingly unsettling, full of nervous energy and discomfort. It does not allow you to sit and standby; instead it sucks you into the whirlwind. Yet there is always an outlook to the light at the end of the song, after the guitars collide and distort, where the sonic storm yields to space and eventually catharsis. The formula (polarization of a song's harshness and quietude) is not new, but Mono executes it as elegantly as any band whose skinny fists stir up such tempests of sounds which assail the ears for ten minutes at a time. Not every song proceeds along these lines. "A Thousand Paper Cranes" and "2 Candles, 1 Wish" stay hushed, concentrated, and focused throughout. The sequencing on the album seems to indicate that Mono is well aware of the anxiety of their songs. The band acknowledges the need for rest between the storms of their mightier songs and they acquiesce by putting the softer bits between the harder ones. In this way, the spaces between the songs mimic the spaces within them. - Joshua David Mann
Cult of Luna, "Salvation"
There is something otherworldly lurking just below the surface of Klas Rydberg's strained howls that is slightly off-putting, something that is not so much heard as felt, something that draws you in while oozing a slight uneasiness. Where a majority of the increasing number of sludgy, pseudo doom acts are content to pound away on the same note for hours on end in the name of "atmosphere," this Swedish septet strives for something more on their third full length. Salvation is an eight song, 72 minute behemoth that's as diverse as it is excruciatingly heavy. While the bulk of the album's duration is spent creeping under the weight of Johannes Persson's immense guitar tone that's as percussive as any drum set, the band is not afraid to add their own flourishes to a style that can quickly become stagnant due to its repetitious nature. Nowhere else is this more evident than on "Crossing Over," which pits Rydberg's underrated singing voice against a slow building wall of jangled guitar that would sound at home on any bold dreampop album. While this is one of my personal favorite tracks, it does seem out of place amongst the oppressive rage of its peers and has a tendency to slow down what is already becoming a physically arduous listen by the seventh track. That's not to say the remainder of the album is without its placid moments, but they are composed in such a way as to not reveal what beast waits around the corner or beneath that proverbial surface, consisting of deftly composed goth rock morsels with a decidedly "non-American" vibe that's difficult to explain and separates them from their contemporaries. The first track, "Echoes," even works with a slight Middle Eastern-themed solo as it slowly builds to the deafening, cathartic roar prevalent throughout the more straightforward "Adrift" and "Vague Illusions." With the volume up enough (which it should be at all times), it is even possible to detect the tasteful contributions of Anders Teglund, whose sparse synth work walks the thin line between subtle and barely audible, adding yet another layer to this dense masterpiece. While the cruel reality surrounding this album is that it will more than likely get lost in the shuffle of a great many other bands who channel 80's-era Swans into their particular brand of madness, this one is worth the effort. - Drew Wright
VIRGIN PRUNES, "A NEW FORM OF BEAUTY"
Virgin Prunes formed in Dublin in 1977, part of the fertile Lypton Village artpunk scene that also spawned U2. Instead of Bono and The Edge, Virgin Prunes had the equally absurdly named Gavin Friday, Guggi, Dave-id, Dik and Pod (later adding Haa Lacka Binttii and D'Nellon). From a very early point, it became clear that while U2 were aiming for global chart domination, Virgin Prunes were more interested in remaining aggressively idiosyncratic, developing their own unique brand of transgressive, avant-garde performance art and a wildly anarchic take on post-punk rock. Depending on who's being consulted, the band name either refers to an Irish slang for masturbation or a term for a person with a particular kind of sexual hang-up. A cult fixture from the early singles until their 1986 swansong The Moon Looked Down and Laughed, the Prunes are barely remembered today. Much of their work was outstandingly original, and yet it has remained criminally ignored and rarely heard, largely due to the near-total unavailability of their back catalog. Initially available only in small vinyl and cassette editions, the catalog has suffered over the years from poorly mastered bootleg CD reissues that immediately went out of print. Mute Records, working alongside principal visionary Gavin Friday, attempt to rectify this situation with the release of five definitively remastered and repackaged reissues of the Virgin Prunes back catalog, with bonus tracks, lyrics and rare band photos included with each album. Since the Prunes disbanded, Gavin Friday has maintained a tenuous connection with the mainstream, recording a series of contemporary pop albums and doing soundtrack work for the popular Irish films In The Name of the Father and The Boxer. He scored a minor hit with the track "Angel," which appeared on the soundtrack for Baz Lurmann's Romeo and Juliet, and he can be seen performing in a scene from Lurmann's garish musical Moulin Rouge. In addition to occasional collaborations with his friend Bono, Friday has also worked with a number of other artists, contributing vocals to Coil's Scatology, Dave Ball's In Strict Tempo and The Fall's Wonderful and Frightening World Of The Fall.
The chronological beginning of the reissue series is A New Form of Beauty, in many ways the most ambitious of the Virgin Prunes' various projects. A New Form of Beauty was intended as seven-part artistic cycle exploring the band's inversion of the standard concept of beauty, reflected in their eccentric costumes and bizarre neo-primitive face paint. The Prunes were tuned in to an Artaudian current of perverse beauty and outlandishly confrontational performance, and this manifests quite well in the music itself. In many ways, their freakish attire and dark sense of melodrama served as a blueprint for the emerging goth scene, but the Prunes had talent and creativity that their followers often lacked. A New Form of Beauty Parts I through IV are collected here for the first time, originally released separately on 7", 10" and 12" EPs and a cassette. (Part V was an exhibition held in 1981, Part VI is an unpublished book and Part VII is an unreleased film.) The music is mercurial and often difficult; dark and overwrought; jagged and dissonant. Gavin Friday's vocals are twisted and menacing on the 10-minute "Come To Daddy," a lopsided avant-punk epic propelled by a brutally distorted, metronomic beat. The song tumbles over itself by the seven-minute mark, turning into a clattering free-improv with Friday screaming desperately: "No one cares about Mammy! No one cares about Mammy!" Their style seems equally informed by glam rock, Krautrock and their punk contemporaries, somewhat comparable to Public Image Ltd.'s Metal Box but existing an aesthetic sphere of its own invention. "Sweethome Under White Clouds" is another deconstructed punk song, this time with a sinister mantra and undercurrents of atmospheric drone. And "Sad World" is something else entirely: a gloomy paean to misery that slowly fades into drug-damaged oblivion. The overlapping vocals of Gavin and Guggi, which often form a tense call-and-response conversation, is one of the Prunes' unique trademarks. "Beast (Seven Bastard Suck)" is a dark, chaotic slab of malevolence punctuated by the crack of a bullwhip. Even when I sense the Prunes are just fucking around with delay peddles, as on "Abbagal," the effect is positively eerie. Disc two consists of Part IV, a 37-minute live performance entitled "Din Glorious," which moves freely between energetic performances of their songs to blasts of terrifying noise, grotesquely distorted vocals and deeply unsettling tape manipulations. A New Form of Beauty is practically begging for rediscovery and reappraisal as one of the most wildly imaginative and unorthodox documents produced in the post-punk era. Stay tuned over the next four issues for reviews of the rest of this critical series of reissues. - Jonathan Dean
At first listen, COILANS seems like Exhibit A for the sort of experimental audio that functions as more of an intellectual or conceptual pleasure, rather than the sort of viscerally satisfying music I've come to expect from Coil. It clocks in at well over four hours of entirely unstructured, rhythm-less high-frequency sine-waves and subtly shifting AC hum. Tracks have no beginning or end, no point-counterpoint or resolution, and no tonal consistency. This new three-disc set also includes a DVD of synchronized digital animations for four of the tracks. It's a reissue and expansion of ANS, a limited edition, tour-only CD released last year, minimally packaged in an unmarked black plastic clamshell. This new boxed set comes in a beautiful foldout cardboard package (identical to the recent reissue of Nurse With Wound's Soliloquy for Lilith) decorated with pictures of the disused ANS machine itself, sitting neglected in a basement room of the Moscow State University, rarely used and in dire need of a radical overhaul. It was built in 1958 by Evgeny Murzin, who set out to create a synthesizer capable of producing the full range of audible frequency via a unique photoelectric process. The composer inscribes his visual "score" onto a glass plate covered with sticky black mastic, slides it through the machine, which reads the inscribed plate and converts the etchings into sound produced by a system of 800 oscillators. In the liner notes, which provide further technical information about the machine, Coil acknowledge that it takes a lot of practice and skill for the user to relate the marks on the plate to the resultant sounds. Soviet composer Alfred Schnittke (whose name is misspelled in the notes) spent an entire year of intensive work with the machine to produce his one and only piece of electronic music entitled "Flow." However, Coil spent only a few days with the ANS, so by their own admission, the sounds on these three discs cannot be described as "compositions" in any sense. Instead, the sounds represent an accidental interpretation of Coil's visual art into audible electricity. As such, it is pointless to assess the musical merit of any of these pieces. The soundpieces in the set are the work of various solo and group alignments of Jhonn Balance, Peter Christopherson, Ossian Brown, Thighpaulsandra and Ivan Pavlov of COH. The notes do not identify which track features which personnel, either because they can't remember or they think it doesn't matter. The CD wallets (and the prints included with the first edition of the set) feature some of the line drawings that were used to make these pieces, but once again, the listener is given no indication which drawings produced which sounds. The drawings operate as Spare-style magical talismans, where occult symbols and "alphabet of desire" glyphs representing words or phrases (such as the tautological "IT JUST IS" on the back of disc B) exist as arcane sigillizations. But the ANS is able to take these occult strategies a step beyond the usual, by transforming them into an entirely exotic lexicon of ghostly electric frequencies. This relation of visual image to sound had the effect of a strange form of synaesthesia on me as I waded through these four discs of unprocessed analog tones; I began to form novel mental connections between sound and vision, thoughts and symbols. Halfway through the third disc I had become like Nikola Tesla, obsessively listening to electronic signals trying to pick out messages he was certain were being transmitted by extraterrestrials. Is it possible for the mind to subconsciously decode this esoteric system of pulsations, throbs, clicks and whirrs? It's impossible to say with any certainty, but the mere suggestion that it might be so makes the sound entirely compelling. At first glance, the DVD animations seemed no more inventive than WinAmp visuals, but I soon noticed the subtle psychedelic abstractions present in each perfectly synchronized schema. By the end of my COILANS adventure, I was tuned into a heretofore unexplored magickal current, a current that sparks and buzzes with vibrations of the manifest spirit. Electricity has truly made angels of us all. - Jonathan Dean
secret frequency crew, "forest of the echo downs"
With their debut full length album, this New York City trio have created one of the most memorable melodic electronic albums in recent memory. Throughout the 11 track CD they fuse acoustic instrumentation with electronics to outstanding effect. The album works well as a whole, with many tracks segueing into one another seamlessly. Although most of the tracks are beat oriented, the varied drum sounds and patterns complement the melodic elements rather than become the focus. The use of a brass section on several tracks sets Forest of the Echo Downs apart from countless other electronic releases. This live instrumentation gives "Black Moss Caves Pt. 1" and "Forest Floor" a cinematic quality. This music would be the perfect soundtrack to a film version of the plant-life scenes illustrated on the cover. The mid-album placement of "Baron of the Bog," the sole vocal track, balances the 44 minute set nicely. This track would be played during the scene in the film in which the main characters meet in a bar with a plant-life theme. This track has a live, almost lounge band feel, but does not sound out of place among the other, more digital compositions. Although "Holographic Moon Owls" and "Pollen and Spores" have similar qualities to instrumental hip-hop, their arrangements prevent them from sounding as if they are lacking vocals. While most tracks feature a linear structure, they also contain plenty of analog synthesizer burbling and other intricate flourishes. The three-dimensional use of the stereo field ensures that new discoveries will be made with each repeated listen. Although it is unclear whether the acoustic instruments have been played live or are sampled, it is apparent that this crew has musical ability that goes beyond sampler programming. By the end of "Black Moss Caves Pt. 1," I had to remind myself that I was not listening to Dead Can Dance. It is not often that groups working in electronic music transcend genre and defy categorization with this level of success. - Jim Siegel
The Beans, "Bassplayer"
Here is another album from Intr_version that perfectly conforms to my expectations. I first heard The Beans on the label's excellent Saturday Morning Empires compilation, where their "May 6th Expires" served as the closing track, a gentle, rain-saturated drift-off that managed to sound both out-of-place among label's dominant electronic artists and also very apt, as a summary of the melancholic mood-building available throughout everything I've heard from the label yet. With this, their fifth proper release, the group has made a record whose spectral, narcotic beauty I feel instantly like I've heard many times before, but will never grow tired. The Beans are from Canada, and it's hard not to align their music, however slightly, with fellow countrymen Godspeed You! Black Emperor. Bassplayer is four long "rock" instrumentals driven by the same kind of simple, sad, two-chord meditations that Godspeed layers high with the swooning textures and the odd cryptic political snippets to create their signature effect. The Beans approach the same medium with fewer musicians, a looser stylistic palette, and much less bombast. Their slow, low-rising pieces seemlike Godspeed'sto touch on very familiar, almost basic melodic components, but without as much heart-stringing, making them better open to interpretationif not quite subversive or challenging content-wise. Nothing is particularly new about the group's style or methods; however these songs speak for themselves, as "May 6th Expires" did as the finale of Intr_version's sampler. Included here as the first track in longer form, the song saturates from the first second, an almost note-less, reverb-expanded bassline brimming and coating each lazy, jazzy slide of the guitars, hooked into each other as if guarding against a very real threat of disintegration, a feeling notably lacking from the work of Godspeed and other post-rock groups where the studied, forced character of songs often ruins their potential for dramatic intensity. Bassplayer benefits from production that retains a live feel, emphasizing the endurance and conviction of the players while making the layered crescendos of the music all the more impressive. My first thought when hearing The Beans was actually a similarity to Australia improvisers The Necks, not so much in direct tonal relationship or even in the music's structural intent, but The Necks work within a similar slow-enfolding, immersive environment in which a song's parts reveal themselves as dependent without a sense of hierarchy. And though The Beans' discography does include three film scores, they refuse the visual dependencies of most things termed "cinematic." While much of this music captures a certain melancholic urgency that could serve the right film very well, it's hard to tell if this is not simply a part of the familiarity, the comfort I find in the music. Bassplayer is special in that it takes comfortable, almost predictable associations and offers the opportunity of living inside them for a short time, a kinetic edge usually denied music of such lateral calm and tender restraint. - Andrew Culler
Blevin Blectum, "Magic Maple"
I'm quite sure a devilish tailor is making its way through my eardrums every time I put this record on. It's not that there's anything evil about this record; but every instance of sound is a rapidly moving panorama of subconscious and dream-like sounds accelerated through time and set to explode upon aural reception. Blevin Blectum's newest record plays like a billion ping pong balls shot into a room about three inches wide and tall. The result is a barrage of micro-sounds that weave themselves together to make patterns of pseudo-melody and hushed excursions into the clouded heart of glass machines. At times Magic Maple is propelled by a turbine engine bent on choking some kind of rhythm out of the random chaos of sounds assembled into each song and at other times it's a playful cascade of rushing sounds, skipping semi-percussion, time-distorted bits of radio interference, various vocal samples, and unknown instruments bent and snapped into unrecognizable alien keyboards. Blectum's songs never fall into any recognizable format nor do they rely on any one technique; each song plays like a small portion of something greater that, if it could all be heard at once, would reveal some grand, majestic schematic that can only be hinted at when received through typical, human ears. What's more, Blectum's chaos is catchy: at times a xylophone or inter-dimensional steel drum fades in and out of the mix to reveal bits of repeated melody and mutant rhythms that never quite find their own pace. It's an addicting kind of music because it doesn't look to typical song structures to make it enjoyable, but it also doesn't go overboard and exist somewhere on the edge of sonic tolerance and pure experimental recording. It's almost pointless to talk about these songs individually; most of the time I can't tell where one song ends and the next begins. Everything fits together perfectly, but the whole album modulates within itself and never gets boring or frustrating in all its bouncing glory. The end of the album, however, is particularly outstanding and there are moments when just the smallest changes made by Blectum are breathtaking. Of course, these moments don't last long because she just never bothers to sit still. - Lucas Schleicher
Poto & Cabengo
In an attempt to Google up some information about this new project from Jens Massel (previously known for his work as Kandis & Senking) and Michael Cramm, I learned that the original Poto & Cabengo were a pair of identical twin girlsreal names Grace & Virginia Kennedywho spoke to each other in their own secret language for the first decade of their lives. What this has to do with this record is a mystery to me, but it's an interesting bit of trivia nonetheless. Interesting is a good word to describe this album which Massel & Cramm describe as their tribute to the sounds of country & folk music. While the idea of European electronic artists being influenced by American roots music may seem strange, there are precedents such as O Yuki Conjugate and Dead Hollywood Stars. Unlike those earlier examples, Poto & Cabengo tend to stick a little closer to the traditions of the genres, with plenty of pluckin' and singin' sitting alongside the pretty electronic melodies. It's an approach that works more often than not, although the latter part of the record is marred by the bizarre "Suevian Rhapsody," which features a nonsensical combination of croaked spoken vocals and a variety of dialogue samples from movies and television. This is a unique and fun release, and at a compact 36 minutes in length, it wraps up before the concept gets beaten to death. - Greg Clow
Toog, "Lou Etendue"
Also on the short sidebut decidedly not as funis the third album from French musician, vocalist and poet Toog. The record is intended to be a modern variation on Poems For Lou, a book written during World War I by poet and soldier Guillaume Apollinaire who was inspired by a woman named Lou that he loved and lost in Nice before the war. In Toog's version, the role of the muse is played by actress Asia Argento, and WWI is replaced by the war and terrorism of the post-9/11 world. It's impossible for me to verify if Toog's words truly reflect these themes, as aside from two pieces that are sultrily spoken by Argento, all of the readings are in French, a language that I remember very little of from my lessons of many years ago. At least the music, which is produced by French sound artist Digiki, is generally quite nice, mixing together elements of downtempo electro & ambient with low-key pop & hip-hop, and even some hints of industrial, classical and cabaret. Given the strong poetic theme of the work, however, it's quite obvious that without some understanding of the words, listeners just won't get the full message that Toog is trying to convey in the 10 tracks on 'Lou Etendue'. - Greg Clow
klangstabil, "taking nothing seriously"
After several releases for various labels, this German duo release their first full length for Ant-Zen. The album covers a wide variety of styles and textures in a concise 42 minutes. Over eight tracks they attempt to achieve a balance between melodic and abrasive elements. The most extreme example of this juxtaposition is "A Difference That's For All To See." While the three preceding tracks are linear in structure and feature vocals set to danceable rhythms, this fourth track is of two halves. The first half consists of slowly shifting, atmospheric loops. At first this sounds like an intro to something chaotic, but after three minutes it seems that the track will remain ambient. 30 seconds later a short burst of feedback announces the track's sudden shift into full-on grindcore, complete with ramshackle drumming and distorted vocals. This is directly followed by "Away," a lush instrumental with a melodic, almost calming feel. Without the clutter of vocals it was easier to enter the space they were trying to create. While musically the album is very successful, vocally it is more problematic. The vocals provide a sharp contrast to the melodic elements, the tension they create in these tracks makes me feel claustrophobic, and they're so loud in the mix that they often overpower the music. This is especially evident on "Gloomy Day", "Push Yourself" and the album-closing "Kill All Lifeforms." It is unclear from what perspective the lyrics to this track have been written. The sentiment, taken at face value, seems extremely negative, with lyrics such as "thoughts of making things better in the future are unnecessary, thank you. You don't have the future for that." Although they have been written in the first person, it is possible that these lyrics are meant as social commentary. Given the current state of the world, promoting violence and negativity seems unnecessary. In contrast, lyrics such as "follow your dreams, with one step forward" and "rediscover yourself, your pride, your dignity, your holiness, force and weakness, love and passion" on "Push Yourself" are much more hopeful, and this contrast suggests that on all tracks the vocalist is referring to someone other than himself. I often prefer when an artist creates an atmosphere which suggests an idea without stating it as obviously as Klangstabil have done on some of these tracks. To their credit, Taking Nothing Seriously is a much more eclectic set than many of their contemporaries attempt. It would have been a more enjoyable listen if it had been balanced a little more toward subtleties. - Jim Siegel
In an era when so many guitarists have taken to laptop processing in order to coax new life from their thought-tired instruments, it seems only fair that other solo-instrumentalists should join the fun. And while the cello has enjoyed its fair share of fusion within the rock sphere, I've yet to see someone sit alone with this instrument, so engorged with classical and acoustic traditions, and really "plug in." Part of what makes Arnold Haberl's output as Noid so fascinating is the way the Austrian cellist moves beyond a banal, deconstructivist treatment of his playing and into ideas for composition where the computer feels less like a medium guiding the production of a piece and more like a voice within the music, to be engaged and countered, rather than simply played-through. Haberl's pieces branch off of strict minimalist ideas, bypassing crude layering techniques of the analog past and instead favoring tightly-wound, stuttering loop effects, drawn out often to the realm of nauseous formalism. Rarely is any multi-tracking involved in Noid's creations; rather miniature fragments of playing are captured, treated, and allowed to loop out, at times for over ten minutes with no real variation. The cello's woody groan becomes an industrial sander on the opening "melodien," stripped of human presence, even a performer's pause or the negative space of a hand slightly off-beat. It's clear after such a beginning that this will be "process" music, here less about the process of making, which becomes increasingly transparent as the disc progresses, and more about the process of listening, of accepting the music's sensory overload in juxtaposition with virtual lifelessness of the sounds themselves and the possibility of their "performance." Haberl does perform with live sampling and manipulation, and the points on Monodigmen where his cello is left recognizable logically become some of the most mind-numbing. "Vacuum 1" is a 12-minute piece of the cellist in lock-groove mode, struggling around what sounds like the opening strains of "Flight of the Bumblebee." After the question of Haberl actually playing such an infernal half-measure over and over again has been ruled out, listening becomes a tug-of-war between enduring the instrument's stunted flight and the utter detachment resulting from the search for patterns, or anything "material" in the music, and finding nothing. I hesitate to dismiss Noid's music as a purely formal exercise because of the way he continuously engages the elements of poise and human concentration almost inseparable from his chosen instrument, in an ultimate reduction of all that is traditionally expressive about it. There are times when Monodigmen feels like an extension of Cage's efforts to communicate the zen-like void or 'nothing' in musical composition; other times, however, Haberl's creation seems too much of an endurance test to communicate anything worth the time it takes to get there.
- Andrew Culler
Youth and painfully melodramatic vocals don't spell out "genius" in big, bold letters. While much of the music that this 17 year-old old writes sounds nice (in terms of production), many of his songs are covered in a too-sweet glow that renders all the glorious fuzz and inherent beauty of his guitar work null. Connor Kirby-Long makes music full of good ideas: at times his arrangements hint at a desire to push his own songwriting abilities forward, but all too often this results in a stifling inertia where nothing goes anywhere. There's huge washes of electronic buzz permeating every corner of every song, but this isn't enough to carry the record all by itself. When Khonnor does decide to lay off all the hiss, his guitars sound plain and relatively flat. "Crapstone" highlights this problem; the keyboards sound like they're being forced out of an old toy that Khonnor must've gotten when he was six and the guitar that is strolling along over it sounds like the work of a disinterested street musician floundering about lazily on his guitar whenever an attractive lady walks by. Other songs show promise, but never reach any kind of satisfying climax. It's Khonnor's age that really shines through this record, not his purported infinite talent. "Kill 2" skips along with an innocent cadence and might sound just fine if it weren't for the dramatic melodies that echo between the keyboards and heavily processed computer-melodies. When he sings it comes out as though he's whispering to someone whom he's in love with, but instead of being sure of himself he tilts back and forth and emphasizes all the wrong aspects of what he has to say. There are a couple of songs ("A Little Secret" comes immediately to mind) where his voice doesn't interrupt anything and all the instruments work very well together. The result are interesting but not enthralling strands of sound. I'm sure there are lots of teenagers in basements across the world that are making lots of music; there's nothing unique or especially outstanding about this one except that he's very obviously ambitious. I can't recommend the CD, however, because there's just not enough material in here to make me want to listen to the record over and over again. Perhaps time and experience will lend Khonnor the songwriting ability he needs to compliment his energetic ideas, but until then his music is all decoration and no substance. - Lucas Schleicher
DEATH IN JUNE & BOYD RICE, "ALARM AGENTS"
Ever since unleashing the amazing one-two punch of But What Ends When the Symbols Shatter? and Rose Clouds of Holocaust, Douglas P. has been creatively floundering. His teaming with Albin Julius of Der Blutharsch yielded two albums that abandoned all of Death in June's usual subtlety and atmosphere in favor of overblown orchestral loops littered with samples from Leni Riefenstahl films and filled with laughable lyrics about Kristallnacht and anal sex. Then came the nadir, 2001's All Pigs Must Die, a prolonged screed against the now-defunct World Serpent Distribution that played like a vicious self-parody. Now comes the new album, a collaboration with fellow fascist sympathizer Boyd Rice. I might have expected them to produce some kind of martial epic extolling the virtues of Bush's imperialist wars, but instead they opt for a more personal album, a return of sorts to the guitars-and-windchimes sound that characterizes classic Death in June. As could be expected, every track is overloaded with excessive echo and reverb, and most are scattered with dialogue snippets from cult films, a familiar DIJ tactic. Unfortunately, Douglas P. has not learned any new chords, recycling the same dull strumming he's been churning out for twenty years. Boyd Rice provides vocals for most of the tracks, in his familiar I-can't-bothered-to-sing monotone. "Sunwheels of My Mind" is almost clever, a solar-centric adaptation of Dusty Springfield's classic "Windmills of My Mind." The album's lyrics deal primarily with the passage of time (punctuated by the Alarm of the title) and a preoccupation with solar imagery. It's the old familiar sun = light = Lucifer = Satan = power equation, a fairly juvenile symbolic conceit coming from a pair of middle-aged men. All that being said, I still liked this much, much better than All Pigs Must Die or the recent Wolf Pact album. It's a big improvement over Nazi tape-loops and boring personal vendettas, but its appeal is largely nostalgicit reminds me of a time when DIJ were slightly relevant. At this point, I'm not holding out much hope that Douglas P. will ever come up with another truly worthwhile album. - Jonathan Dean
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