Monday, 19 March 2012

The Dead C - 'Tusk' (Siltbreeze)

When I first heard the Dead C, Tusk was their current album. I'm not sure if it's the very first one I heard, or maybe just one of the first, but it helped to define the band to me, early on, as a bunch of anti-music conceptualists. This mostly incorrect assessment (they were anti-something, but extremely musical) is largely based on the opening cut, 'Plane', which is not to say that I didn't listen to the rest of the CD. And probably also on the cover art, which is an eerie, Goya-esque drawing that echoes the minimal liner notes(a monolithic font, big bold letters, and nothing in the way of recording credits save a "NZ1997" at the bottom). It was probably 'Head's monster summation that really drew me to the band, which is actually a pretty amazing rock song that is constantly on the verge of collapse. Which, I guess, sums up Tusk nicely. The title track is the most free-form, though it bears far more resemblance to  The White House, Repent, and even Operation of the Sonne than to the Fleetwood Mac record I can't help but compare it to. Tusk is a really great collection of the Dead C doing everything they do - it's as varied and complete as Harsh 70s Reality, as you get the spacious, improvised soundscapes and also some bone-crunching vocal-led songs. 'Tuba', in a minute and a half, tells you everything you need to know about this band's songwriting capabilities; 'Head's second half would have to go on an all-time best-of (which, apparently, it is - on the Vain, Erudite and Stupid collection). But I keep going back to 'Plane', which begins with 7 minutes of rattling sound tape loop, oh-so-slightly evolving as it shakes around, with one regular variable-speed change to mark regularity. Though it resembles nothing else the Dead C ever recorded, it still shapes sound in space quite wonderfully, even with a limited palette, and feels totally appropriate with the guitars and drums kick in halfway through. This is one I always forget about, as it tends to be overshadowed by the earlier records, partly due, I'd say, to the repetition of songs across multiple releases, in different versions. This is a later Dead C, maybe now best called "mid-period", and the full-fledged ringmod AMMateurism of the Language Recordings era is almost there. Electronics are more present here than in any of the pre-Sonne records, especially on 'Imaginary', which is feels as much about urban decay as it does the wild expanses of one's imagination. This is the last release they did on Siltbreeze, so it's truly the end of an era, and what an era this was.

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