Ah, behold musique concrete, one of my favorite words and one of my occasional dirty little pleasures that next to none of my friends really understands.
Oh, don't bullshit me. Really. Show of hands, right now: Who here actually owns a goddamned Stockhausen record?
Right. So fuck all y'all.
Anyway, Jacob (or, as I prefer to call him, because I'm an asshole like that and because J. Felix Heule sounds like a Prohibition era robber baron which is pretty awesome, J. Felix) from Beauty School hooks me up with this other thing he does called Voicehandler. Now, I dug Beauty School's Residual Ugly, I'm sure I can dig this. And I do. But it should come with a warning: Do NOT put this on whilst making Sunday morning breakfast for your girlfriend because, no matter how into left field shit she is, this ratchets up her anxiety to the point where she's just going to wait for her eggs out on the goddamned porch.
The first impression I got from this record was pretty cheesy. Upon first listen, I thought, This sounds like Björk vamping to the good parts from Altered States. I thought to myself, Nah, blad, that's shitty and dismissive even if attempting to be complimentary. I still stand by it a little, though now I think the vocals remind me more of Giovanna Cacciola.
So, what's to know about this record?
Still, though, Altered States.
Still, though, Altered States.
First of all, it's minimalist. J. Felix and Danishta Rivero (whose first name feels pleasant against my teeth when said aloud) are playing with only a handful of instruments - percussion, electronics, and hydrophonium - that last being an instrument of Ms. Rivero's own design which, according to her website was inspired by a short story called La Luz Es Como El Agua by Gabriel Garcia Márquez. (I haven't read it so I can't quote the scene here or anything.) Ms. Rivero also gets a lot of mileage out of her voice, switching from lullaby singing to tortured stomach-in-throat gags to chirps to purrs to slurps to hisses to growls. She's like fucking Pazuzu.
Second of all, it's thick. Dense, layered, complex, whatever. It's fucking thick, man. For two people using only a couple of instruments, it's got a lot going on. Of course, there's a good deal of lllooonnnggg dealy and looping going on but it's used in such a pleasing manner that it feels like an "organic" necessity - NO! STOP! Forgive me, father, for I have sinned... I said "'organic' necessity" like some sort of Williamsburg-moustachio'd-twat. Like I'm at the fucking co-op or some shit: "Hey, honey! Look! Free Range French Endives! These are an organic necessity! I heard so on NPR!"
Look, the music presented here is layered and dense, much like my sense of immediate shame.
Third, yes, the music is creepy. You know what else it is? I can hear influences from Latin and Central America, especially on the first track, and not just because the lyrics are in Spanish. It's also highly literate, each song being tied to a particular story, be it a creation story, a beat novel, or an epic poem. Accordingly, the music sounds with gentle bell sounds and distant heartbeat drums which then, on whim as these pieces are improvised, turn to staticky bee buzzes, and hellish, cyclical chimes and shambling dad's-shit-faced-after-the-UAW-meeting-again-and-thinks-now's-a-good-time-to-take-that-wall-out-of-the-kitchen-with-the-sledgehammer-like-he-and-mom-have-talked-about drums and then there's that voice that's kind of pretty much just commanding the demon spirit to leave my corporal vessel.
It's like this: Have you ever wanted to know what the exact fucking opposite of "Walking On Sunshine" sounded like? Because this is it; this is not good time music. However, that's not to say this is bummer music and, it should be noted, if this music terrifies you, you're not listening to anything more than the surface. Sure, this music plays heavy on tension and release but there's more than that to sink your teeth into. This is trance music without the implications of techno that that term carries. This is the kind of music you hear through the jungles of the Darién Gap, sure enough there's some blood-letting going on where you can see that far off fire that you know better than to venture toward, and there's probably some peyote because why wouldn't there be? And this music still could turn a voodoo shaman's shit lily white.
So, we all know the joke by now: Can I fuck to this? Man, I can't even get high to this: there's too much going on; thank fuck A) this wasn't released in quadrophonic and B) that I don't have a quadrophonic system in the first place: this would be too much to handle in that instance. Nor can I shake my caboose to this. I'm surprised I made breakfast to this.
Are there any real negative points against this record? Not just the smart-assed ones listed above? Well, I can say this much: I don't know how much mileage this record is going to get around here. This is not the sort of music made for repeated and repeatedd again listenings, especially active listening. This music, and this is not meant as a slight to the band, is the kind of music best presented with a curator and an installation, which is kind of what I infer how they normally perform it from their one sheet.
But the positives outweigh the negatives. There's an inventiveness here, especially considering that the singer invented her own goddamned instrument. (Motherfucker, have you ever invented an instrument? Like one that sounded as good as this one? No? Then sit the fuck down and quit pretending you're not impressed.) In its denseness, the aforementioned thickness, it never gets complicated; that thickness exists by virtue of the band's minimalism. It's heavy without being blunt, layered without being cumbersome, pleasant (if you're anything like me) without being saccharine. This is the kind of fun you have when you visit an art exhibition after smoking a few onies, and then you see the big assed art installation and the minimalist duo performing in front of it and you think, "Man, why aint I doing something like that? That's fucking awesome. What the fuck am I doing? I'm going to go home and do some twisted shit on my guitar tonight." And then you're out in front of the museum, hanging out, having a cigarette with your homie, Dan, and Dan says he knows a guy that does circuit bending and saxophone and you all should get together and jam at Dan's place because Dan's old lady moved out on him last week so he can finally set up the drums in the living room and he's got these contact mics that he wants to attach to the drums and run through a Space Echo and yeah, man, yeah, totally.
So, yes, this record is fucking awesome. I wouldn't recommend it if you have a high-strung cat or something. If you can handle your hallucinogens, I guess you could listen to it whilst tripping but I've never cared much for hallucinogens so I'll just listen to this straight. You could set up a playlist in iTunes splicing cuts off this record and Bruce Springsteen's Nebraska and ensure that none of your neighbors ever bug you about anything ever because you might be that guy they've been reading about in the paper that the police have no leads for.
Anyway, you should really check it out.