The Nein's brand of sound-effects-laden, angular rock hints at the dance-punk trend but never fully embraces it. The hooks are there, off and on, but they aren't nearly obvious enough to get commercial radio play. Instead of catering to prospective playlists, The Nein explores a more experimental yet still too-familiar path lined with references to Gang of Four, Southern Records bands like 90 Day Men, and Wire.
The success of latching onto Gang of Four's jerky rhythms has reached a level of ubiquity that renders copycats practically meaningless. Quirky, danceable rock with post-punk roots reached its apex in 2004 with Franz Ferdinand's cheeky new wave redux leading the pack. The Nein isn't exactly setting its sights on Franz Fedinand's teen fan base, though- its music is far too difficult for that, but the wiry, off-kilter beats pay homage to many of the same references, despite the musical disparity.
The grumbling bass lines recall the thick sound of mid-90's Touch and Go bands, particularly The Jesus Lizard, but The Nein lacks that band's caustic aggression. On Wrath of Circuits, The Nein's first proper full-length, the tempos all too often meander into directionless drones, while the vocals portray a thin, bratty, post-punk posturing that tends to grate when not underpinned by a catchy chorus.
The Nein seems too detached from any recognizable emotion to tap into anyone's sympathies for anything other than mutual appreciation of better bands. The self-consciously, too-clever-by-half song titles are indicative of the band's apprehension of making a genuine emotional connection on any level. The lyrics are nonsensical, non-sequiturs that leave me little reason to care.
Pretentious intellectualism can suck the fun right out of music in a hurry, and DJ Spooky has always straddled the line of pedantic condescension and envelope-pushing experimentalism. His collaborations are always intriguing, though, having worked with such diverse artists as Metallica, Dr. Octagon, Thurston Moore, Arto Lindsay, and Nick Cave in varying capacities, including remixer and beat artist.
Having been on New York’s DJ scene just over a decade, DJ Spooky is a meticulous turntablist first, and a musical theorist second. I saw him speak at a conference in New York in 1995 just as he was garnering attention for his early EP’s and singles, wherein he attributed equal stature to Led Zeppelin and Grand Master Flash. And while his melting
pot tastes run as deep as his knowledge for mind-bending musical philosophies, his artistic approach can be a tad scientific at times, though always attention grabbing and versatile.
His latest record for the experimental label Thirsty Ear, Drums of Death, draws in a kaleidoscopic cast of characters in its pursuit of jazz-infused, sample-heavy, hip-hop metal with Slayer drummer Dave Lombardo on the kit. Living Colour guitarist, Vernon Reid, provides the metal segues, which surge with virtuosic energy and technical aplomb, but it’s the presence of Public Enemy’s Chuck D that lends the album its hip-hop grounding, running through three new interpretations of Public Enemy staples like “Brother’s Gonna Work It Out” and “Public Enemy #1.”
Consistent with Spooky’s eclectic proclivities, Drums of Death tackles speed metal, hip-hop, ambient digressions and deconstructed funk with seamless precision. The band he has forged is ferocious in its own right and highly adaptable to Spooky’s (and producer Jack Dangers’) artier tangents. It’s uncomfortably diverse in its wide-reaching ambitiousness at first, but a few listens in and Drums of Death turns knee-jerk apprehension to admiration.
Austin, Texas’ I Love You But I've Chosen Darkness follow up their highly acclaimed 2003 EP with a two-song single on soon-to-be It label Artikal, and quickly live up to the promise of their brooding and marquee-busting name. Armed with a new line-up, the band purges itself of the pop leanings of the EP in favor of a decidedly darker sound.
“According to Plan” begins with an insistent bass drum, which provides a solid foundation for the plucky E.S.G.-esque bass line. Exercising the
flexibility of the 12” medium, the song unfolds slowly, introducing new sounds and variations every few measures. Christian Goyers vocal musings
fall perfectly over the minimalist backdrop, providing yet another catchy melody. The song strikes a perfect balance between light and darkness, a trait, which proves to be the band's greatest strength.
The single's B-side, the gorgeously desolate “Thoughts on the Floor,” begins with malfunctioning electronics and moody synths. Goyer's reverb-drenched vocals perfectly convey a sense of post-millennial tension. A steady bass drum throb enters to keep the song from collapsing under its own heavy atmospherics, but it soon vanishes to make way for a fallen angel synth patch. The song quickly finds its momentum when all of the instruments return, lead by tear jerking guitar arpeggios. This song is not only brilliant for its masterful use of tension and release, but it also showcases the band's unorthodox but ingenious arranging skills.
With the advent of digital file-sharing, the single has become something of a lost art form, so it is refreshing to see a band fully utilize not only the medium's extended length to push their songwriting skills, but also using the format as a watershed between albums, wherein they can experiment with the trajectory of their sound. If this 12” is an indication of what's to come, you can bet that I Love You But I've Chosen Darkness will soon be the toast of dance floors and darkened bedrooms alike.
The musical ingredients are practically identical to any great New Order album, but Waiting for the Siren's Call is as tepid as tap water. New Order's hybrid of overtly danceable electronics overlayed by organic instrumentation has been its call to arms since it sprang from Joy Division's melodramatic ashes in 1980. At first Bernard Sumner's ridiculously trite lyrics seemed charmingly antithetical to Ian Curtis' caustic poetry, but over time the irony has faded. Now Sumner's absurdist couplets sound cringe-worthy, desperate, and lame.
New Order's last great album was in 1989. Technique pushed the band into its most sophisticated level of electronic experimentation, retaining a menacing sense of melody and a stupendous pop sensibility. Everything since should have been left in the vault, particularly 1993's insultingly dismal Republic. Almost a decade later, Get Ready tried to recapture the band's rock aesthetic, but it merely made the band sound out of touch and irrelevant (I cite "Rock the Shack" as superior evidence). And so Waiting for the Sirens' Call can do little other than pour salt in the wounds of New Order fans the world over.
There used to be a sense of danger surrounding the band. Ian Curtis' ghost lurked in every crevice and watching New Order develop over the years was almost like peering into someone's private journal- you half expected someone to overdose or commit suicide mid-song. That sense of urgency ended with the 1980's, and no driving Peter Hook bass line can ever bring it back. I must admit, though, that watching the band perform "Love Will Tear Us Apart" recently on Jimmy Kimmel affected me more than I could have anticipated. Objectively, it was a cheesy rendition, replete with Sumner's inexplicable crowd-pumping outbursts, but the sentimentality of witnessing members of Joy Division play that song made my hairs stand on end.
Nostalgia aside, New Order is done. It's a lumbering dinosaur. Sumner's breezy choruses can still tap into that esoteric sense of frustration and alienation that all great New Order songs conjure, but it's half-baked, watered down, whatever you want to call it. I am numb to it. For the life of me I cannot fathom how people can claim this album is any sort of return to form. That's just revisionist history. No song on this album pushes the band forward. It's all New Order by the numbers. Gillian Gilbert has been replaced with a guitar tech. Peter Hook is fat. And Bernard Sumner still can't really sing, but it sounds pitiful as opposed to condescendingly amusing.