"Far from being 'inhuman' or 'robotic', as was often charged in the early days, electronic music is thus a profoundly human art."
In his wonderful little book on electronic music, Paul Griffiths wrote "Far from being 'inhuman' or 'robotic', as was often charged in the early days, electronic music is thus a profoundly human art. It is also one that seems peculiarly appropriate at a time when electronic means, the radio and the gramophone, are the principal sources of musical experience for the vast majority of people in technologically developed countries. We may even reflect, with Herbert Eimert, 'whether perhaps it is not the symphony recorded on tape or disc that is the synthetic, and electronic music the genuine article.'"
Lines like this, and the sentiments they evoke, seem best to describe my response to a group like Autechre and in particular the record Tri Repetae++, which repackages the Tri Repetae album plus the Garbage and Anvil Vapre EPs into a two-CD set. Many recommended it to me as a good default entry point for the band, and I have paid that notion forward myself. Maybe there are better individual Autechre records, but TR++ is as close to the Compleat Autechre Experience in a couple of discs as we are likely to get. The duo of Rob Brown and Sean Booth released a good deal of other music after this, and are still hard at work, but somehow every gesture of significance, every aesthetic of importance they have manifested to date, is reflected here.
This one-off collaboration between the former Velvet Underground member and a master of mesmeric minimalism yielded a record with only one really standout cut, but what a cut it is.
In an age of streaming and single-track MP3 downloads, does it make much sense to talk about albums anymore? When they're meant to be progress markers in the creative career of the people involved, sure. You get a better sense of contrasts over time by way of bundles of songs than individual ones. And sometimes an album will rate as well as it does on the strength of a single track. Church Of Anthrax as a whole is only an okay record, and given the talent and energy involved it deserved to be far more than just "okay". But its title cut is one for the ages; it single-handedly makes the record a milestone for everyone involved.
The first of the posthumous releases from Alan Vega (of Suicide)'s vault, and it's a good 'un.
Two of my favorite musical artists are now gone from this world, and both of them have massive archives of unreleased material slowly making their way out into the world. One, we all know: Prince. The other is nowhere nearly as well-known to the general public, but influenced many as part of the hidden history of 20th and 21st century music. Alan Vega was half of the proto-techno, transistor-punk duo Suicide, and even minus what's languishing in the vaults, he released far more material under his own name than he did with his collaborator Martin Rev. Now comes the first of those vault releases, Mutator, recorded in 1995-1996, around the time he was putting together the Dujang Prang album. It's a good Alan Vega record, which means by anyone else's standards it's a very good one.
A look back at the most deliberately frustrating album ever made for popular consumption.
The key to The Downward Spiral came to me by way of something Roger Ebert once said about a much-maligned but still-valuable Martin Scorsese film, The King Of Comedy. "This is a movie that seems ready to explode — but somehow it never does. ... [T]here is neither comic nor tragic release — just the postponement of pain. ... Scorsese doesn't direct a single scene for a payoff. The whole movie is an exercise in cinema interruptus; even a big scene in a bar ... is deliberately edited to leave out the payoff shots .... Scorsese doesn't want laughs in this movie, and he also doesn't want release."
Emphasis mine, because I think that is exactly what Trent Reznor was also trying to do with The Downward Spiral. What makes this such a tough album to swallow isn't just that it's so noisy or herky-jerky or confrontational, but that it is constructed, track after track and across its whole length, to deny us any real payoff, any real feeling of transcendence or liberation. When we do get it, it's too transitory, too fragmentary, too broken-off to deliver.
All of that is the point. This record isn't about a journey to an insight, but the experience of being trapped in a psychic holding pattern. Consider it the antithesis to Pink Floyd's The Wall: that album tunneled through pain and broke through to self-revelation and catharsis. The Downward Spiral just tunnels back into itself, like the curled worm on the cover of one of the singles released for the disc, and while it doesn't literally end on the exact same note it started on (as The Wall did), it does something more effective: it makes us realize we could have started anywhere and ended anywhere with the record, and it would have made no difference.
You know how Woody Guthrie has THIS MACHINE KILLS FASCISTS on his guitar? Peter Brötzmann's reeds should have signs that say THIS MACHINE KILLS, PERIOD.
You know how Woody Guthrie has THIS MACHINE KILLS FASCISTS on his guitar? Peter Brötzmann's reeds should have signs that just say THIS MACHINE KILLS. Period, full stop. I say this knowing full well I've backed away from the aesthetic that the harsher and more uncompromising the art, the more "true" and "real" it is. But then I put on something like Machine Gun and come halfway close to believing it all over again. It's like the result of a dare: Someone said to Brötzmann and his seven buddies, go make a racket that ought to clear the room, and instead it pins everyone down and has them clamoring for more. Here it is. You're welcome.
When I'm happy, this record reminds me of what I'm transcending; when I'm not, it reminds me of how to transcend.
This is an album about death, which means it is, inevitably, also an album about life. I wrote that preceding platitude, or something like it, the first time I heard Superunknown, and immediately felt embarrassed for having done so. The idea that death and life are the face and back of the same coin is a triviality along the lines of water's dampness. Then you spend a little time, or maybe a little more than a little time, in the shadow of that truth, under the weight of it, in the belly of it, and it's not a fortune cookie anymore.
A thunderous fusion of jazz and industrial rock, way out of print but absolutely worth seeking out.
Among the many downsides of entertainment conglomerate mergers is the way hordes of indie labels snapped up by the majors in the '90s and '00s have had their catalogues vanish into the ether. Case in point: Big Cat, a UK label currently owned by who the heck knows, the vast majority of whose releases exist only as pricy out-of-print CDs or YouTubed bootlegs. Among them, and richly deserving a reissue, is God's Anatomy Of Addiction, a thunderous fusion of jazz and industrial rock that has none of the pretentiousness of the former or the inflexibility of the latter.