Wednesday, January 17, 2007

2006 in Review, Part 1

I'll be posting reviews of records released in the past year which made an impression, or failed to, in three parts, culminating with my favourites. Up first: the decent and the awful.

:wumpscut:, "Cannibal Anthem"
The second law of Ratzingarian physics is clear enough. Preserving the original Elizabethan spelling (while :w: did not come into being until the late 20th century, its theoretical groundwork was established centuries earlier by John Dee, in his little known gnostic text "The Lawes of Rivetting and There Applicashun," originally thought to be a cryptographical diatribe against metalworking guilds), it is as follows:

":w: recordes shalle vary in there quality in binary fashun: there can be no bunkerator withoute boese junges fleisch, no embriodede withoute evocation. Lette any man who sayeth otherwyse be subject to bone pealer on repeate."

(The first law, of course, reads that "You shalle notte compleate one songe without grieving the Englishe tongue by way of heinous mispronounciasion or awkwarde metaphore. Perfection is notte of this worlde and alle industrial recordes have sinned and falle shorte of the glory of "Fronte By Fronte.")

While many have tried to interpret the second law as meaning that the quality of :wumpscut: releases alternate in quality in a binary fashion, there's nothing inherent in the law that states that the records will oscillate between sucking and ruling, and such a myopic point of view ignores the double-whammy of awfulness that was "Evoke" following "Bone Peeler." Those who try to customize the :w: discography to fit their own historical agendas (cherrypicking European vs stateside release dates, incorporating remix albums and previously unreleased compilations at will) are revisionists of the worst kind.

Instead, the law merely indicates that a balance must be maintained between the good and the evil in the catalog. Previous to "Cannibal Anthem," there were four major releases in each camp, making this a record which could easily upset the balance. The verdict? "Cannibal Anthem" is good, but thankfully, not overbearingly so. Beginning with some classic cold crunch n' yowl of the "Slaughtering" era ("Wir Warten," the album begins work in many of the electro elements that dominated the last two (abominable) records, but with much more taste and subtlety, blending them with the more loop riff-based material found on the interminable "previously unreleased" compilations. I think "Jesus Antichristus" is trying to sound like "Assimilate," but ends up being much closer to "Doctorin' The Tardis." Not that there's anything wrong with that. The end result is an album you'll pull two or three tracks from for mixed playlists or DJing, but will also find its way onto your speakers once or twice a year, possibly while you're cooking pasta.

If we expect the second law to persevere (and who'd question John Dee?), then we can look forward to a record that's the complete inverse of "Cannibal Anthem" in 2007. Something brash and embarassing which may contain a sleeper dancefloor hit eight months after its release. What's on deck, Rudy? Ah: "Body Census," with lead single "Goth Census" presumably being a hybrid of the title track and other album cut (no, I'm not joshing you) "You Are A Goth." Gee, this just smacks of restraint and quality control. I'm interested in the methodology and nature of the "Goth Census." Is it determinative, ie: check "yes" or "no" on the goth census so I can say with conviction that "You are a goth"? Or is it proscriptive, ie: I know that "You are a goth" and are ergo mandated by the Goth Domestication and Naturalization Act of 1988 (passed in the wake of Spike wearing a Mission t-shirt in the Degrassi Junior High opening credits) to complete and submit the goth census? I can't wait to hear how Ratzinger addresses key domestic issues such as cassis shortages making snakebite in short supply and the current administration's inability to bring Valor Kand to justice for the commission of Atrocities against humanity.

Covenant, "Skyshaper"
It's a shame when what seems to be the first real experiment by a band whose success is almost wholly due to craft falls flat on its face. Such is the case with "Skyshaper." After album after album of increasingly refined dancefloor gold, the boys in the sharp suits got it into their heads to shoot the moon and gamble it all on quirky sounds, new structures and whatnot. Unfortunately, the end result is a gelatinous mess which shuffles about aimlessly, never yielding purpose or beauty, which is all the more tragic given the apparent zeal with which they laboured through this project. "Ritual Noise" is a par-for-the-course Covenant dancefloor track which has been remixed quite nicely on several occasions, but as a rule we've got tracks polished to abstraction with very little substance. And the lyrics. Oh my. "Sweet and salty / Tears of joy / Liquid lies / Cheeks on fire / Loud and noisy / Girls and boys / Ancient rites /Late at night" When Ratzinger engages in this sort of mutilation of the English language, at least there's the vocal distortion to muffle the effect. With Eskil's deadpan baritone front and centre, there's no way to avoid the lyrics' pained awkwardness, which is endemic to "Skyshaper" as a whole.

Panzer AG, "Your World Is Burning"
Or, as I like to say, your bagel's been in the toaster too long. I'm of the opinion that every single one of LaPlegua's records under the various monikers up until this one is solid and matches the respective aesthetics and purposes of each name he records under. Fine. So how does adding leek soup thin alterna-geetar and keening rock radio song structures follow suit from the war-themed stomp-fest that was "This Is My Battlefield?" Ah. It doesn't. We all have our off days.

Clan Of Xymox, "Breaking Point"
...And this might the titular moment at which I part ways with future Xymox releases. I don't even grudge Ronny Moorings for shifting gears from the heart-rending atmosphere of the 4AD material; he was able to release one truly exceptional "modern" goth record with an eye to the dancefloor ("Hidden Faces"), but it's been eight years since the reappending of the "Clan Of" prefix to the band's name and "Hidden Faces" is about all there is to show for it. This is calculated to the point of banality, and aimed at an audience that has no reason to care anymore. What have you done for me lately? A cruel question, but a fair one once you've put out four consecutive mediocre records.

Gary Numan, "Jagged"
Like Ronny Moorings, Numan's settled into a comfortable niche within a subgenre that formed in his absence from the spotlight. Numan seems to be able to churn out chugga-chug industrial rock accented by his whispering wail in his sleep (although this missive was delayed by almost three years). As far as I'm concerned, he's more than earned that right after having been a commercial and critical pariah for over a full decade. Having seen younger bands who dominated while he languished, it's only fair that he draw upon them upon his return as they did him. That being said, there's nothing particularly essential about this, his fourth record post-comeback in black. There's nothing wrong with it either, per se, but unless yr a devotee yr better off checking out "Exile" or "Pure," both of which cover most of the same territory with some better tunes.

Point of interest! The website of a Christian Numan fan whose broken ranks with the Numanoids due to the anti-religious sturm und drang of the last four releases. Warning: a "Cars" MIDI will start playing at you.

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