ULAN BATOREgo: Echo (Young God Records)
Ulan Bator: two words that conjure up some sexy female assassin from a forgotten Roger Moore--era Bond flick but are actually the name of an obscure and incredible French rock group (as well as the capital of Mongolia, course). The album Ego: Echo was released in late 2000 by its producer, ex--Swans leader Michael Gira, on Young God Records (his labellabor of love), but has received nowhere near the audience it deserves. Thats unfortunate, because here, on full display for 65 minutes, is everything that post-rock promises but almost never delivers: Rock instruments (guitar-bass-drums-Hammond-vocals) are used, but rock-music rules (4:30 max, versechorusverse structure, standard chord progressions) are relaxed -- and often jettisoned altogether.
For some reason, this new freedom usually means were in for some intellectual exercise -- music that ignores the senses, the groin, the flesh, e.g., Tortoise, Sonic Youths last two discs. But Ego: Echo is defiantly, intensely alive: Its songs are sweated out, its vocals delivered past wine-stained lips. Its instruments touch, grate, rub and reflect on each other, intimate to the point of claustrophobia, reproducing on audiotape the 96-square-foot Italian recording booth in which the songs were recorded in ensemble. So Santa Luci is undeniable and in-your-face-and-through-to-your-brain: a thundering, supertight cabaret groove that breaks into Can-space in its third minute; Etoile Astre is a wicked version of the Meters full-ensemble locked funk; Let Go Ego is an epic 16-minute banishing ritual that collapsesclimbs from ring-drone to Savage Republic march to four minutes of four repeated syllables -- Letttt goEeee-go.
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But for all this tight music made in tight quarters, theres a strange spaciousness, too: Tracks like the opening Hemisphere, the lovely, downbeat Hiver and the late-Swansesque La Joueuse de Tambour are not without a certain sensual grandeur. This is music without a manifesto (or Jim ORourke) -- music that remembers its played by human beings.