Vol. 1, Issue #13 July 21st - August 3rd, 2006

Tiger Beat From Hell
By: Wilhelm Murg

Paradise Reclaimed at Tuxedomoon’s Bardo Hotel

Tuxedomoon first became known in avant-garde circles when they signed to The Residents’ Ralph Records in the 1980s. The label was designed to bring a much-needed rebirth after the fall of punk rock and its overindulgences, but unfortunately, The Residents gave into those very indulgences, and like everything else they touched in that dark period, the label and band collapsed into an aesthetic black hole, cloaked in obscurity. However, the ripples were felt throughout the American avant-garde, and by the evidence left behind, we all had the sense that something catastrophic had happened; a golden age was promised, and then quickly lost. Brilliant and creative bands and musicians who had just started developing a cult following, and obviously would have changed rock music if only given the chance, fell off the face of the Earth as quickly as they had appeared. They were like inspired specters that could make wondrous poetry out of the rubble left behind, but all of the various bands’ post-Ralph recordings were as elusive as their muses.

Tuxedomoon was one of those units that forged onward in the wake of the debacle and distinguished themselves as leaders of the underground progressive rock movement, which is a world so obscure that, at times, it even seems hidden to those of us who try to follow it. But like the golden nectar from the egg of some rare and beautiful bird, it always seems magical and untouched by outside influences, when one is allowed the odd privilege of savoring it.

Now, as the grand old men of progressive rock, Tuxedomoon has released an album – or as they refer to it, the soundtrack to an uncompleted film they are making – the “Bardo Hotel Soundtrack” (Crammed/Made to Measure, 2006). The title was inspired by the Brion Gysin novel of the same name. The CD mixes ideas from all of their different periods into a seamless ambient stew. It’s perhaps one of the greatest statements in the history of the psychedelic-progressive-industrial continuum, but so untouched by mainstream tastes that it leads me to wonder whether it is still “valid” as rock music, or has it become something closer to a fine work of art, like the sonic sibling to a Rothko abstraction. Even the information on the CD cover seems hidden in the shadows; it is purposefully difficult for the reader to decipher – which is an old industrial magicians’ trick – but it forms into something aesthetically pleasing, even if the only thing it conveys seems to be poetic notes inspired by images you may never see.

Tuxedomoon has become the tribal musicians in Pink Floyd’s valley “Obscured by Clouds.” While everything else has gone on around them – rap, hairy metal, goth, grunge, techno, industrial, neo-this and post-that – Tuxedomoon sounds like they have cloistered themselves in some aesthetic temple for over two decades where they have created art for art’s sake. In actuality, the band existed from 1978-1988, then reformed in 2002. I have no doubt they have paid their dues; no one is getting rich off of these recordings, and is speaks volumes that the band has continued to release these rather difficult albums; this music is created from the heart.

Listening to the CD is like reading “Finnegan’s Wake” without the cheat notes; there’s something mysterious, humorous, brilliant, and amazing going on, but it dares you to try to put your finger on it – and I have the feeling that even the creators are so in tune with their group collective subconscious that they couldn’t tell you what inspired many of the sections themselves. The album has been mixed and remixed several times. Like an abstract painting, you dab a little more yellow over there and pause to see if it is aesthetically pleasing.

The nonstop sonic landscape begins with low machine drones and the sounds of tape recordings and musical instruments waking up. You know right off the bat that the band has abandoned the very concept of a hit single format; this is a novel, and one that refuses to tell you its plot. However, a few minutes into the CD you realize that the formless sounds have turned into music, but more is owed to a psychedelic reading of Bruckner’s late-Romantic 18th century symphonies than to our sacred blues.

The third track, “Soup du Jour,” is like a tango heard underwater. It is minimalistic, but with a tonality made up of found sweet spots cured from dissonance. It serves as a springboard for the aural connecting pieces, followed by an over-thought mathematical play on a nursery rhyme that never existed, “I’m Real Stupid,” which echoes Mahler’s play on the theme of “Frère Jacques” in his first symphony. By track seven, random blues are dropped into the collage like found objects in a Picasso sculpture. By track eight, if you can possibly make a connection to the disc’s progress and the related album notes, non-sequential operatic vocals appear in the mix which seem to work with the melody – as it is – then it transforms into spoken words, which turns into an exotic melody, which changes into a piece for choir. Ideas that remind me of obscure and forgotten free jazz records play against backdrops of old school Residents and Throbbing Gristle washes of found noise. By the end you realize it is definitely the soundtrack to something – the previous hour of your life.

That’s the best way I can describe Tuxedomoon’s latest mind-bending trip, and I dare anyone else to do better. This is a major musical event that will probably languish in obscurity because it’s not geared to the sound bite world that has grown up around it. And no, I doubt I will put it on first thing tomorrow when I wake up; this is closer to an opera recording, where you sit down and examine it for the epic enduring time it takes to play itself out.

The “Bardo Hotel Soundtrack” is a gift from a forgotten tree that still bears fruit in the thick of the forest. It’s a gleaming reminder of an alternative route rock music once promised, but human frailty kept from happening. It’s a true masterpiece. (www.crammed.be)

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©2006 NONCO Media, L.L.C.