Tuesday, March 8, 2011

98 the Hard Way: EPs, Day 7

Akarso: Parallel Chlorophyll Regions (Highwater)
Yet another band with a ridiculously limited yet consistently high quality output. This isn't quite as good as their material on the split with Faraquet, but the two full songs presented here are both indicative of the sort of incredibly dextrous math rock that I'm most fond of; heavy on the interplay, fairly dynamic and composed enough that the hairpin shifts in structure flow out of the piece as opposed to being out of the band's desire to add another time signature. Both "Wheels Crash Cars" and "A Steady Runaway Stays Close to Home" feel like individual songs rather than hodgepodge's of various fragments stuck together irrespective of tone. That hurdle is a tough one to clear when your songs are as diverse as Akarso's, but the trio are adept at juggling a half dozen riffs in twice as many time signatures in a 4 minute burst. It probably helps that their overall sound is a bit more aggressive than it's peers, giving the songs more drive and tightness in a genre where things can easily get meandering and loping. [8.3/10]

Spy vs. Spy: Spy vs Spy (Subjugation)
Spy vs. Spy might be the best example of how excess amounts of passion and unrestrained emotion can single-handedly salvage an album. That's not to say that the album presented here isn't good, in fact it's frequently pretty great, but there's always the niggling notion that the group are a little bit out of their depth. The playing isn't up to par with the compositions is the best way to put it I guess; they know what they want to do, but they haven't quite gotten to the point in their playing where they can pull it off without hesitation. That said, when they're playing the songs they're attacking them with every single ounce of emotion they have in their young bodies, and that sort of dedication makes even the clumsiest of transitions sound so much better than they actually are. It's especially notable on "How the Cat Was Invented?" where the pieces never quite fit when you think about them after the fact, but for the five and a half minutes it's playing the song sounds remarkable simply because it's attacked so passionately. The later tracks are more streamlined, but are similarly constantly elevated beyond their actual quality level by the performance. If anything, this makes me much more excited to revisit the band's other release to see if they found their stride more firmly there. [7.6/10]

The Legendary Pink Dots: The Pre-Millennial Single (Soleilmoon)
I remember hearing the news about the Heaven's Gate cult in 1997. I think it was the first time I had any exposure to the cult mentality - for good reason I later found out, my mom's brother fell in with one such organization in his teenage years and it's a bit of a sore spot on their side of the family - so 12 year old me was moderately incredulous at the notion that so many people would decide to kill themselves en masse like that, and over something so innocuous as a comet passing earth. It perplexed me that people could be so willing to follow that kind of order, that belief in and of itself could cause such a stupid, random tragedy. It's one of the news stories from that era that stands out to me because it was so confounding to me; I understood the reasoning behind the wars in Bosnia as well as could be expected at that age, understood the concept of terrorism w/r/t the Oklahoma City bombing (once again, as much as a 10-11 year old could) but was utterly bemused at the notion of mass suicide in a cult setting.

I wouldn't be surprised if the Heaven's Gate incident was on The Legendary Pink Dots' minds as well when they were making this EP. It's distinctly steeped in cult lore, from the Wicker Man cover art to the content of the songs themselves almost as though this were a concept EP about the cult experience. Additionally it's very astronomy focused, which relates back the Heaven's Gate even more concretely. The way that the cult angle is approached here is supremely varied, with each track going at the subject from a different angle. "Hellsville" reimagines that sort of mass suicide ritual as a children's game, complete with sing-song chant, and as a sort of public entertainment. "Andromeda Suite" and "Abracadabra zzzz" are both more ambient takes on the concept, the former bookended by sales pitch platitudes with a meaty center of graceful, moderately threatening ambience, while the latter indulges in vaguely shamanistic chanting and hypnotic grooves to bring the EP to a trance-like close. They may not be as as solidly cult-based as the other tracks but in light of the overall theme it's not a huge stretch to paint them with the same brush.

And then there's "Needles (Version Sirius)". It's a track that I don't think words can do justice to, so please go seek it out and listen to it. Go ahead, I'll wait...

I'm a sucker for a truly creepy spoken word piece, and this might just be the alpha and omega of that particular subgenre, using the malleable, unique voice of Edward Ka-Spel to deliver a small monologue wherein so much happens. You hear a father basically asking his son to join the rest of the family in a small-scale suicide ritual, but as it goes on you hear the son slowly losing his faith in the family unit. As Ka-Spel's voice gets more and more theatrical and unreal it's almost like you're hearing the son in that scenario slowly realize that his family is irredeemably insane. It's a singularly harrowing piece, both on a lyrical level and a musical one, but it's also pitch black comedy if you listen to it a certain way. This is the kind of thing that the band can't do too often, but when they do and they execute it as well as they do on "Needles" it's a real treat.

It's also a treat to hear this incarnation of the band's sound as compared to the earlier versions shich left me a bit cold. Half of the impact of "Needles" comes down to the increasingly frantic and menacing musical backdrop that the band provides, and the other tunes, "Hellsville" especially benefit from the much more energetic and dark sound that the Dots were playing with at this stage. It's a sound that's very well suited to the material presented here, and even more so than the singular experience of "Needles" it's the reason i might call this my favorite LPD release if pressed. [9.1/10]

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