Vol. 1, Issue #23 Dec. 8th - Dec. 21st, 2006

Tiger Beat From Hell
By: Wilhelm Murg

Was It Always Supposed to Be Noise?

I have a friend who was there on the frontline when Industrial was happening, circa 1980-1990. He always acts amazed when I play him something new by an old industrial band and it has melodic elements to it. “Hey! That’s not random noise like they played a quarter of a century ago.”

The idea was never to just cause earaches (well, almost never) but to create “music” (using Varese’s “organized sound” definition) with what was at hand. If all that was at hand was a stolen metal trash barrel, that became the instrument and the idea was to make something that sounded interesting aurally, at least, if not musically. Just as primitivism is the first stop on the path to art, even if one doesn’t go toward realism, there is still a perfection of the technique that one strives for, whether it’s in the layering of paint in Jackson Pollock’s work, or the near psychedelic power of Picasso’s last paintings from the early 1970s.

Three new releases just came out by old masters of the obscure, The Residents, Laibach, and Erik Lindgren, of Birdsongs of The Mesozoic-fame. All three show an evolution from their earlier sounds. The Resident started out very primitively, using found tapes, toys, and uniquely tuned instruments used in unorthodox ways. Laibach was one of those Industrial bands where even people who loved their work in the 1980s were often disappointed at the utter pointlessness of some of their early sounds experiments. Birdsongs certainly knew how to play their instruments, they were a band of virtuosi who virtually started the second wave of art rock in the 1980s, but even Lindgren’s new solo album shows a maturity in style.

One of the biggest problems I’ve had with The Residents since the original band broke up in the early 1980s is that nearly everything they’ve released has been a concept album, if not a full-on opera. This wouldn’t be so frustrating if their lyrics weren’t so hard to decipher. The last album of theirs that I listened to, “Demons Dance Alone,” inspired by the 9-11 attacks, was one of their worst; it was overly pretentious, even for The Residents, and musically dull.

I’m happy to say that their newest release, “The Residents Present Tweedles” (Mute Records,) is more or less back to form musically. It is suppose to be about a vampire who feeds on broken hearts, but I wouldn’t have known that without the liner notes. While it is a story, the music has the old Residents’ tension to it (usually achieved via fast, repetitious keyboard lines and pulsating drum rhythm patterns.) The song “Keep Talkin’” embodies the sound perfectly, along with guitar work that sounds like Slash channeling the late, great Snakefinger.

Sonically this is the best Residents album to come along in over a decade. The recitation of the story and the dialogue occasionally gets in the way, but it is solid musically. It harkens back to their earlier days, when you didn’t have to decipher the lyrics to get the full effect of the album.

Laibach’s latest album, “Volk (Mute Records,) offers the most startling change. Their early albums were random noise records. In the late-1980s they had some commercial success when they recorded their own version of The Beatles’ album, “Let it Be,” sans the title track, and also released a long EP of acid remixes of their cover of The Rolling Stones’ “Sympathy of the Devil.” They’ve had a cult following every since, but seldom get any attention outside of small group of fans, who usually overlap as fans of KMFDM, My Life With The Trill Kill Kult, Front 242, et al.

With “Volk” Laibach has re-interpreted fourteen national anthems, and just as they brought out new aspects to The Beatles music, they do the same for these patriotic songs. The band discovered when they went back to the anthems that most were nostalgic and bloody, so there’s a strangely wistful feel to the album, even if the lyrics (sung in English) are about death and destiny. Like everything Laibach does, there’s a air of Soviet Social Realism (the infamous “Girl Meets Tractor” propaganda art) that always seems hinted at in their work, even if they are as opposite from the Soviet idea a you can get. It jumps out at you in this album, where at points you have ethereal vocals, in the style of Mike Oldfield chorus, which I’m sure the Soviets would have liked, yet played against the metallic dance beat. It’s not a masterpiece, but certainly an interesting album worth investigating for fans of industrial techno music.

Erik Lindgren is a classically trained composer who was in the band Moving Parts with future Mission of Burma frontman Roger Miller. After Moving Parts broke up they started Birdsongs of the Mesozoic as a side project. After Yes’s “Owner of a Lonely Heart” and Asia’s “Heat of The Moment” pretty much finished up the progressive/art rock movement, Birdsongs seemed to start the whole thing all over again.

Lindgren’s latest group/project is The Frankenstein Consort, which has just released “Classical A Go-Go” (sfz Recordings,) described on the cover as “Invigorating Musical Novelties for Woodwinds, Piano, and Percussion.” The album consists of Lindgren’s fine own compositions, plus covers of Edgar Winter’s “Frankenstein” and four Raymond Scott tunes, with an Erik Satie classical piece thrown in for good measure.

The very concept of an unplugged, classical consort doing “Frankenstein,” the record that introduced the Arp Synthesizer to the world, and Scott’s experimental recordings that were appropriated by Carl Stalling for the Looney Tune cartoons, sounds absurd on paper, but Lindgren makes it works (I first checked out Birdsong all those years ago because they did the “Theme from Rocky & Bullwinkle”). Lindgren has come up with a classical pops record for people who came out of the post-punk era, and probably have a few Philip Glass and Steve Reich records in their collection.

What makes the record work is the tightness of both the arrangements and the original compositions. Sometimes early Birdsongs could get a little indulgent, but here the music is straightforward and leaves you wanting more. The change is not in becoming more musical, but rather in polishing the musical ability. The CD is infinitely charming.

So there you have three fine albums by musicians who were very influential in the underground of the 1980s, and all three have stayed there and developed their highly individual styles into unique voices that are as interesting today as they were 25 years ago. I’d like to see you try and do that with Emo.

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©2006 NONCO Media, L.L.C.