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June 13th, 2001 Robert Becraft, Zach Dundas, John Graham, Brian Libby | Sonic Reducer
 

Foetus + Frenchies = Fun

REVIEWED: Thirlwell's mania, Swords Project's obsessions, Air's whimper, Plug's predictability.

     
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FOETUS: FLOW (Thirsty Ear)
The industrial legend plays ringleader in a manic and murderous schizoid cabaret.

To say that Jim "Foetus" Thirlwell constitutes a one-man cult of personality would be a gross understatement, on par with saying Hitler had "issues." Foetus--the acidic expectoration of a solo Thirlwell and his overworked recording studio--encapsulates so many personalities, it's practically a nation-state all by itself. A nation populated by the pathologically insane, maybe. But Thirlwell's manic and murderous schizoid cabaret is as messily entertaining as a guillotine party in Times Square, and the delirious genre-hopping of Flow makes it an ideal text for schooling revolutionary youth in Foetus 101.

"Quick Fix" kicks off the album with an urban-nihilist nightmare of sampled Ministry drum loops, silicon-shredded guitars, and Thirlwell's trademark growl imploring listeners to "barricade the buildings and burn the projects down...you better load your .44, this is civil war." The sudden downshift to the swank cocktail kitsch of "Cirrhosis of the Heart" grinds mental gears into scrap; the multitracked glee-club vocals (like everything on Flow, it's all Thirlwell, all the time) could slip onto a Pizzicato Five disc if they weren't chirping lyrics like "cirrhosis of the heart will tear your soul apart." "Mandelay" then slams into an epic spaghetti Western as imagined by Einstürzende Neubauten, jackhammer percussion and factory noise pummeling under sweeping strings, slowly bleating horns and music box chimes.

That's just the beginning. The next seven songs swerve with sickening speed through brassy bad-attitude swing, frenzied mechano-industrial rush, Bernard Herrmann psycho-killer soundtrack, and brain-damaged-and-drunk blends of blues, funk and theatrical rawk. By the time we reach the 13-minute closer "Kreibabe," its downtuned thunk, dizzy percussion crescendos and spine-creeping orchestral coda seem positively logical.

All this is not to say Flow is Thirlwell's best record--that would be 1985's immense angst-opera Nail. But it does give another glimpse into the sideshow mind of one of the most insane, deranged and driven geniuses in rock history. For that alone, Flow is easily worth the admission price. Step right up. (JG)

Foetus plays 9:30 pm Friday at Cobalt Lounge, 32 NW 3rd Ave., 224-8499. $12.50 advance (Fastixx). See story, page 81.

THE SWORDS PROJECT: THE SWORDS PROJECT (Absolutely Kosher)
The Portland eight-piece reinvents the instro-jam with zeal and precision.

Of the several experimental mini-orchestras that have bravely opened new frontiers in Portland's music scene in the last year or so, the Swords Project may be the most delicate and rigorous. Though this album stretches and wanders over great sprawling distances, you could count on one hand the basic sound-shapes at the root of the four songs. In the obsessive zeal with which it repeats, labors over and elaborates on these few simple themes, the Project manages to bring an almost monastic discipline to rock's most undisciplined form, the instrumental jam.

"Shannon's Wedding Song" eases the album open, a low fluidy gurgle of bracing, chiming guitar. This is early-morning music, evocative of the clarified light and cautious human pace of 7 am on a weekday. Carefully, carefully, carefully--the song gathers steam at the hypnotic tick-tock pace of a metronome. Then drums erupt into this placid landscape, to simultaneously jarring and liberating effect.

Quickly, though, the band finds its way back to the lulling theme. This precision hairpin turn is emblematic of the whole album. Its moments of free-flowing noise almost always feel like guilty pleasures the band allows itself as a reward for its restraint. Even when Swords Project is at its loudest and most rock-and-roll--as in its clangorous escape from "Squatting Level," this disc's third track--the stormy lashings never stray from the sturdy architecture that sustained the song's gentler moments.

If this is jam rock, it has little in common with the red-eyed self-indulgence usually pimped under that title. Instead, this is music that finds freedom in devotion to a very meticulous battleplan. (ZD)

AIR: 10,000 HZ LEGEND (Astralwerks/Source)
Ils sont très mauvais.

The cover of 10,000 Hz Legend, Air's long-awaited followup to its Virgin Suicides soundtrack (and the French duo's first stand-alone album since its debut, Moon Safari), pictures a futuristic recording studio alone in the desert. Recalling Carlos Castaneda's novels of surreal desolation, it's a fitting visual metaphor for the music inside.

In Europe and, to a lesser extent, the States, Air ascended the crit-cultural mountaintop in the '90s, exalted as those rare electronic artists whose samplers, computers and keyboards could convey genuine emotional warmth. But 10,000 Hz Legend finds the Parisians restless and unfocused. One moment, the tempo gallops far ahead of anything on previous recordings; the next, Air seems eager to flush out that signature syrupy groove altogether. One song is an embarrassing retread of ELO, while another gives guest vocalist Beck full rein--you wonder whose album this is. "I feel loose, I feel ragged," one lyrical passage goes, "I don't know what I'm looking for." You don't say.

This is the classic quandary of success: How to move forward without abandoning what got you there? As these Frenchmen now know all too well, that takes a certain je ne sais quoi. (BL)

VARIOUS ARTISTS: PLUG INDEPENDENT MUSIC AWARDS 2001 (Plug Awards)
A new awards program seeks to celebrate independent music. Too bad they're so bloody predictable.

Self-declared aficionados of the "best music" being made today--known otherwise as smarmy hipsters and DJs--offer the Plug Independent Music Awards 2001, a by-the-numbers compilation of bands running a narrow gamut of underground rock and hip-hop. The Plug Awards were conceived as a sort of alternative Grammys for artists that would never be honored by the plutocrats in the old Academy. Unfortunately, this worthy idea ends up simply setting up a new star-obsessed caste system, as well-known names dominate a double-disc set in whimsical, yet impractical, packaging held together by a metal bolt.

At the Drive-In flaunts a combination of splayed, syncopated-but-sloppy chords, predictable arpeggio and quite a bit of spunk. The now-defunct buzz band was at best eclectic and energetic, but it erred in its formulaic calculations for success. Damien Jurado sings visceral, thoughtful, sulky folk in debt to James Taylor. Jets to Brazil makes you wonder if any more clunky, stodgy shifts of instrumentation or smiting, clamorous cymbals can be tolerated, even by fans of the late Jawbreaker. The Mercury Plan is relentlessly dull, straight-up emo from Florida. Its songs are full of bankrupt lyrics coupled with hyper-clean power chords and nauseating high-end guitar. Hard to believe the band opened for Unwound in New York. But, then, that's show business--the real business at hand here. (RB)

 


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