Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Biota - 'Object Holder' (RéR)

In the mid-90s, no one could hear your screams. The musical side of the (now relegated to art duty) Mnemonists created this dense 70 minute mess of a prog/avant-pop album -- at a time when the rest of us were busy listening to the Smoking Popes. But it's no more comprehensible to me in 2009. Biota have an eclectic sound but I can reduce it to two elements: accordion and delay-affected percussion. Everything else is perfectly nice, but if you wanna know what makes Biota sound like Biota (and not like, say, Animal Collective), its those two elements. The squeezebox makes everything sound like European busking music to me, and it's hard to believe these people were in the American southwest. There are explicitly folk parts, like 'Idea for a Wagon', but those are the moments that actually bore me a bit. Sorry guys, but I'm raised on liking my folk music to be as raw and gritty as possible, and there's just too many rack effects here. But effects are the name of the game, often building everything into an unintelligible chaos. The opening cut, 'Bumpreader', is about 9 minutes of everything you can get from the album, like an overhead view before zooming in for deeper inspection. There's confusing arrays of horns, acoustics, and studio fuckery to mix everything into a deep soup. This is a highly compositional approach to music, as strong melodies and chord changes are emphatic, though the presentation is somewhat obfuscated. But once Susanne Lewis starts singing, about seven tracks in with 'Reckoning falls', it takes a future-pop angle. While Biota have no problem recording their drums through chorus and delay, or recording their flügelhorn through shit-tons of reverb, they leave her voice coherently articulate. This works though - they understand the pop knife that has to cut through the sac of effects - and a strange beauty rings out on these songs. The downside is that I tend to privilege these pop tunes over the instrumental jams, which make up most of the disc. The lyrics are abstract yet evocative - sometimes about Uri Geller ('Reckoning falls') and sometimes the description of a surreal journey ('Private wire'). 'Signal's vocal part follows a tinny acoustic-electric guitar riff, the real sound of adult-alternative radio except the resulting monolith is too weird to stand a chance. There are a few placid piano instrumentals that seem to break the record into three parts, of which the third part's songs are all written by Chris Cutler. 'Coat' is an almost wonderfully sing-song melody about borrowing a coat, with fluttering percussion underneath that is distracting. The theatre of the everyday, but with flanger on the drums! 'The Trunk' closes things out with a fairly aggro moment and then there's an unlabeled bonus track -- as if the first 23 weren't enough! -- and to be honest, I don't know that I ever made it this far before. The artwork is as awkwardly out-of-place as the music, being drenched in psychedelic pastels, computer generated art, and the general vibe of early 90s Residents CD-ROM experiments. Yet the sounds within are 'interesting', occasionaly fascinating, and thus this has a space on my shelves.

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