Review by: B.b. Fultz
Album assigned by: Tom Hadrian Kovalevsky
I’m not sure how to best review this, because it’s pretty experimental. I’m going to default to “safe mode” and write a general impression of each track, since there are only 7.
“East/Jinx/…/Music #1” (I assume these are section-names?) opens the album on a brooding bass/synth track that reminds me of Bauhaus. A LOT. The beginning is right out of “Hollow Hills.” After about a minute and a half, Manzarek-like keyboards spring up abruptly. Of course, Goth borrowed a lot from “baroque” 1960s music by the likes of the Doors, the Zombies, the Animals (et.al) so the two styles go well together. A sax comes in a minute later, making things suddenly jazzy, another layer on the continuing goth motif. After about 4 minutes total the goth transforms into a weirdly middle-eastern sounding (to me) synth/jazz thing. Vocals enter out of nowhere. The voice reminds me of Bowie circa the Berlin trilogy (eg. “Secret Life of Arabia.”) The voice is hoarser though, going almost Joe Strummer-ish at times. The whole thing is an odd amalgam, although after the initial goth/doors intro it loses something. But it gets interesting again around the 10 minute mark, where it goes dissonant and I guess ambiant — my impression was “Secret Life of Arabia” going backward into “Moss Garden.” It has an Eno type of SOUND (electronic for the sake of being electronic) but it’s far more dissonant and trippy than classic-era Eno. Best analogy I can come up with is someone trying to be Pink Floyd and Devo and some unknown third thing all at once. Not sure if they succeeded or not, but it’s interesting to see them try.
“Victims Of The Dance” is another Bauhaus-sounding track, but this time it sounds like one of Bauhaus’s more experimental songs (considering this was released in the same era of classic Bauhaus, I’m wondering how much the two bands influenced each other). The vocal style varies between Murphy (in the chorus) to Bowie (most of the rest). The vocals are probably the most interesting part of this one.
“Incubus” is … another Bauhaus song?!? Did I upload a Bauhaus album by mistake? No, the stuff going on in the background is probably too complex and jazzy. Bauhaus usually made their point in a simpler way. Incubus is like “Bauhaus mood” + “DEVO syncopation” x “punk-era Alice Cooper production values” … and this album came out right when Alice was smack in the middle of that era, BTW. Tuxedo Moon seem to have soaked up influences left and right, but I wouldn’t call them rote copyers — their twist on these “early-80s motifs” is pretty unique.
“Desire” is a mid-tempo song that sounds a little like having a bad drug trip on a merry-go-round and being too disoriented to jump off. This song is an unsteadying experience. There’s a deceptively fast synth percussion-track going on underneath it, leading to a sense of fast/not-fast that makes your stomach do a double-take. The more they embellish it with saxes, keyboards, etc, the more they increase that vertigo of being swept up and down and around on a runaway machine. Every instrument on this is like a different part of that machine moving at a different speed and in a different way. Including the vocals. There are many interesting vocal overlays as well, which perfectly suit this song, because everything seems like it’s riding on top of everything else. If this song is “Desire,” it’s the kind of desire that makes your head spin and your stomach turn. It’s pretty amazing they were able to effectively translate that lovesick feeling into music.
“Again” might have been called Bowie Again — the Bowie vocals are back. The background is different this time around, a spacy astral jazz that reminds me a lot of Pink Floyd’s “A Saucerful of Secrets” (the song), except sort of collapsing at the end, rather than reaching a melodic resolution. Not a bad song but that collapsed ending is probably the most interesting part.
“In the Name of Talent” is a really interesting one. The intro is slow and jazzy and moody, a lot like something off Pink Floyd’s “More” album … then a guitar comes in and the song enters this weird 3/4 timing and speeds up to a gallop. Yet the vocals are slow and relaxed, drawn out even. There’s all of these interesting little melodic “pings & pongs” during the middle instrumental break, like a solo played on some weird alien harp that it would hurt your brain to imagine. I like how this song doesn’t sound much like Bowie or Bauhaus, or even the Doors … it’s a weird mix of early techno/dance with ambiant with something else I can quite define. It’s more Tuxedo Moon than anyone else, I guess. Which is cool because all the Bowie/Bauhaus tributes were getting redundant.
“Hollywood for Plywood” is — oh wow! Cool ! The soundtrack from a high school science film! No, wait, it’s some kind of bassy/brassy jazz with swooping strings. Wow, interesting segue there. Both themes have a slick and glossy and slightly cheesy feel to them, especially with all the pretty strings. But where the first theme just sounds like anything from a random 1950s educational film, the second theme sounds like the students got bored, ate large amounts of mind-altering drugs, and tried to reproduce the first part on their school band instruments … transforming that impossibly optimistic and idealistic 1950s music into some deranged musical mindfuck for the 1960s/70s/80s/beyond. In a way I like this song the best, maybe because after all the unexpected twists and turns of the other songs, this last song still managed to surprise me.
OVERALL IMPRESSION: an album worth hearing. I might have shortened one or two of the songs just a little, because these fellows do tend to draw their grooves out, but usually there’s enough change-ups and interesting little touches to keep things interesting. If you like original Goth circa the Bauhaus days, or the Bowie/Eno trilogy, or jazz fusion, or electronica, or even if you just like musicians with an ear for detail, I’d recommend these guys. They sound like other early 80s music I’ve already heard, yet at the same time, they’re not quite like anything else I’ve ever heard. Pretty cool stuff.