Herewith, and forsooth, is a semiweekly column bringing you news and biased views on special music of note — all kinds of music — and related items such as DVDs, books, films and live events, as well as the poop on the people who make them. (The column will alternate between short reviews and longer profiles and reviews.) We aim to blur the lines in this space, knowing that our readers are willing and ready to open their third ears and make the connections between musics high and low — and in between, of course. Contrary to what you might’ve heard, it’s not all good, but, given the gargantuan quantity of product available in this modern age of digital creation, revivification, distribution and information flow, the rational odds are that, for the true eclectic, a lot of it is good, or at least worth knowing about. Now let’s roll with it:
They Were Wrong, So We Drowned (Mute). Electric-plug ugliness Issue Two from the N.Y.-based Aussie/Midwest-American crew is a screechy hair-shirt punk-funk catharsis, punching the air and wrapping your skull in barbed laser wire as you twitch, sweat and savor your damaged state. They’re weird, and it’s bad for you, so nothing new there — but such commitment! And a lead singer like an ostrich Dr. Who flapping about in silver Mylar as the obliqueness whirs, bleeps, blats ’n’ belches to an autistically tight rhythmic lurch. How something so itchy and bruising and palpitating can feel so inviting shall remain one of life’s little mysteries. “Fly fly/the devil’s in your eye/shoot shoot,” intones the singer-antenna. Quite so.
Delirium Cordia (Ipecac). Metal Mike Patton’s opus is subtitled Surgical Sound Specimens From the Museum of Skin, so you get the idea. No? Well, it all starts with a needle being dropped on vinyl. You’re inspecting the (beautiful) black-upon-shiny-black booklet that graphically depicts surgical removal of tumors and eyeballs. The lone 54-minute track is a musique concrète mass of neato-horror/exotica-stuff-we’d-like-to-hear, with an ostensible overarching theme of probes within the human body (yes, Patton gives Matmos their props in the credits). Thus Gregorian chants or Pendereckiesque massed choral clouds wash over cleanly compressed monster metallic guitars, intercut into a percussion jam evoking medicinal ritual deep in the jungle even as great swarms of inhalations, exhalations, clangs, creaks, squeaks and obscure thumps feel like we’re overhearing a murder. One senses an episodic film for the ears, and what’s interesting is that the metal — aided by Melvins guitar dude Buzz Osborne and ex-Slayer drummer dude Dave Lombardo — just sort of peeks in from time to time, like metal is a good rusty hanger on which to drape all sorts of tangentials, in this case from exploitation films, comix, pulp novels and crap TV. Patton owes Dario Argento, George Romero and Jess Franco, not to mention the Great Wall of China circa 1750, the Taj Mahal, lots of wind, death in general, and Satan; he knows that comic books reveal truths because they’re so darn hokey.
Hypnotic Underworld (Drag City). Cuts 1 to 4 form an epic of sorts, with titles like “God Took a Picture of His Illness on This Ground” and “Aramaic Barbarous Dawn,” so here’s your psychedelic folk music from a bunch of hippies all living together in a big hut on a commune somewhere in Japan, ha-ha . . . Uh, well, that’s pretty much what it is, and they are. Leader Masaki Batoh has been promoting his revisionist ’70s retrovision for almost 20 years, and he’s getting better and better at it. This one launches forth with the spaciousness and bleating horns of a Wildflowers New York loft–jazz set circa 1974, all double basses, semilyrical prolonged sax tones, clattering Takemitsu percussion and eerie echoes thru the canyons of your mind, and its free-flowing form is deceptive, ’cause it’s really a cleansing of the air for the astutely cheeky ’70s-prog structures that follow. This is the more lyrical and perhaps Floydy side of prog, where Celtic harps, flutes, tin whistles, tablas, 12-string acoustics and ’trons bespeak also the whimsically unfettered creativity of Soft Machine gazing benevolently down from above (and I do hope that “Escaped and Lost in Medina” heralds a new era for the glories of fuzz-bass through cheapo amps). As with Fantômas or Liars, a wish to parody gives bands a starting point to build upon, where the cartoon is part of its life-stream — it’s not irony, exactly, more as if something has been learned from the prog and rock excesses of the ’60s through ’90s, and that would include the narrow assumptions of rock critics who would’ve laughed this stuff off in the past ’cause it didn’t sound like a bar band from New Jersey.
THE CRYSTAL METHOD
Legion of Boom (V2). Whew . . . Many, many beats, bro, in varying degrees of body-rockin’ blahblahblah. After hearing Fantômas or Ghost or Liars, this particular dance aesthetic seems slightly petrified, a bit past it, though I’m conceding that comparing the lot is somewhat like trying to make out to Kraftwerk, or maybe Bob Dylan or — well, whatever floats your boat. Anyway, Crystal Method does several collabs with the likes of the BellRays’ Lisa Kekaula (she’s tuff), former Limp Bizkit guitarist Wes Borland, and ex-Kyuss singer John Garcia bleeting an Axel Coverdale; Milla Jovovich and even Jon Brion dart into the fray, but the cuts with Roots dude Rahzel ring the funkiest, ’cause his voice is raspy and kinda mean. But it’s all style, crystallization, like the entire dance/ breaks/hip-hop/metal-funk garbage can dumped out on the sidewalk, scraped up and put in the washing machine, spun dry. However, while you may wonder if this incredibly functional music Jan. ’04 edition is important, you may not feel like thinking, either: The beats are kinda dusty, but they’re shiny, too, and they slam! when you play it real, real loud. So that’s fresh, like a fresh McDonald’s hamburger.
Talkie Walkie (Astralwerks). The conventional wisdom on the French duo Air is that they’ll never again equal the serene moody majesties of their 1998 Moon Safari, an album so effortlessly and ineffably moving that its subtle evocations simply had to be a freakish confluence of time, place and some mysterious olfactory element. Talkie Walkie has been called a return to Moon Safari’s cool romantic etherealities, and while its 10 songs are fleecy and fluffy and crisply heart-tugging and almost scientifically spacious, thus irresistible, after four listens it’s . . . not taking me there . . . It must be said that I first heard Moon Safari while on a visit to Versailles, where I actually had the entire palace grounds to myself one late afternoon; as I gazed out at the expansive rear gardens and off into the gray-orange horizon, sunball sinking, a chilly mist rolled in, and the lingering traces of Moon Safari seemed unutterably perfect. I have a feeling that Talkie Walkie could be your Moon Safari, if the circumstances line up right.