Vinyl Reviews

Monday 19th December

December 20, 2011

I’m not sure how many reviews I will manage to write this week. last year if I remember correctly I stopped even trying until Boxing Day, such is the impact the silly season has on my day job, and subsequently on me. I am exhausted tonight but do not have to be up early tomorrow, so will write a review this evening, but I can’t be sure that I will be able to manage to do so many more time this week. Tonight then I have been listening to a vinyl album I first played two or three weeks back, but found so interminably unlistenable that I have only just pulled it out again tonight. Its not really an album that particularly demands a lot of careful listening anyway.

The album is a new conceptual work from Mattin named Exquisite Corpse. The music was created using a method similar to the traditional  game of the same name in which a group of people individually draw different parts of a drawing, often a person, without being able to see the contributions of the other members of the group. For this album, which is jointly released on Mattin’s w.m.o/r label and the Azul Discografica label, Mattin wrote the lyrics to ten songs, which he then sent out to the three other members of the group he has formed for this project- Loy Fankbonner, (drums) Margarida Garcia (electric bass) and Kevin Failure (guitar and piano). Each group member only received the lyrics a couple of days in advance of recording their individual parts, which they did separately and without any contact with one another. All they were sent were the lyrics, and the instruction that each of the ten songs should only last three minutes. The three instrumental parts were then superimposed by Mattin without any editing later, with an additional fourth track, his vocals, added on top, again recorded without having heard anything his collaborators had produced. The lyrics then were meant to provide some kind of, (in Mattin’s words) graphic score for the project, the only element the musicians could use to try and guess at how the music might sound.

This kind of exquisite corpse game is not unusual in improvised or experimental music. recently of course, MIMEO’s sight album was created in a vaguely similar way, and many other examples can be found in recent history. Perhaps the one thing that sets this album off from those other works might be its attempt to create a somewhat mainstream form of music with rhythm, melody and sung words  rather than anything as abstract as the sight project produced. the end result then, as perhaps we might expect, is a somewhat disjointed garage-punk styled mess of a record, bass and drums never connecting, grainy insistent guitars thrashing about, and Mattin’s half spoken, half shouted, never really sung lyrics scrawled all over the top. There are some moments that almost work, some happy accidents where two musicians might change course suddenly int he same place, or parts where all of the group might decide to play quieter, or more slowly, and one might wonder how much of this is the result of the musicians interpreting the lyrics in similar ways and how much might just be happy accident. Any enjoyment taken from the album then came for me from the curiosity of what such a project might throw up. On the whole though, it sounds like rough outtakes from a dodgy mid-Eighties Velvet Underground tribute band’s practice sessions. Not a pretty thought then, though I am also quite aware of how that description could actually please Mattin!

My problem with this project is not so much that it produced something that isn’t so inspiring to listen to, but rather that its a bit of an old, boring idea. In his liner notes Mattin mentions that because the musicians were only allowed one take to respond to lyrics they had not had much time with, they came close to the spirit of improvisation. I’m not so sure that this was really the case, given that they each have tried at least to make sounds that might work together to form a set of rock songs, albeit of the somewhat obscure avant-punk variety. Beyond the intriguing way that the different musicians interpreted each track, and beyond the novelty element that any project of this type might engender though, this seems a bit of a lightweight, throwaway project for Mattin. It comes across as part interesting, if unoriginal concept, and part homage to the rock and roll studio experience. Unlike other Mattin works of recent years though, its ugliness as a piece of music is not really compensated for by an interesting conceptual idea. Nothing here leaves me thinking long after the needle has come to rest in the last groove, and the end result is somewhat predictable. It all ends up being a bit of a throwaway project then, of the kind I really don’t expect from Mattin. No big criticisms, just not something that left much of an impression.

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