Reviewed by Joe Lockard
Sunday, December 17 2000, 5:48 PM
One reason a lot of electronica reviews tend to be short is a lack of descriptive vocabulary for many of their experimental effects. Early electronica, like Kraftwerk from twenty-five years ago, seems simple to describe in comparison with contemporary work that pushes language towards difficulty or give-it-up hopelessness. In the latter cases, reviewers tend to throw a couple of adjectives at the album and hope they stick. The problem with this album is far different: so much new vocabulary is needed to describe its range of effects that I felt speechless, which is not what I usually feel around words.
Gearhound is an incredibly rich and complex recording that some might call post-electronica. I'd call it New Noise because the music no longer pretends to a connection with Old Sonority. It arrives with its own compounded sound, the product of electronica culture but part of a multi-generational aesthetic that has been shaping itself for years and now passing beyond its origins. Unlike some recent electronica that gets tossed straight onto the CD compost pile, such as that composed by laptop rockers who possess the equipment but no sense of thematic elaboration, this is a compositionally sophisticated album.
Gearhound might appeal to self described 'Intelligent Dance Music' folks, (whoever they really are,) but it would be sad if only they listened. Refusal to listen across commercial genre lines is unfortunate though common, but refusal to listen to a new aesthetic is self-limiting in the extreme. Gearhound is one of the clearest manifestations of the New Noise aesthetic.
Lesser interweaves select noise effects into quasi-instrumental ensembles and interweaves human environmental sounds through his compositions. 'Deep Sixed in the Back Nine', for example, wavers between the human and the mechanical, calling on a range of effects. The composition grows incrementally until it develops into a full-bodied creation that finishes at a high level of nervous sound.Gearhounddisplays a command of compositional opportunity within tempo and speed. 'For Irritant', as one example of this capacity, plays constantly with very rapid rhythm paces and works through constant beat alteration.
Lesser is working out an experimentalist idiom, one that appears in tracks like 'On the Kid's Tip' and 'Then'. These are noise-laden and hard-driving mixes where a half-bar of sampled symphony sounds like an archeological find. That same technique appears in a more prolonged sixties rock sample in 'The Gearhound Suite'; the surrounding compositional contrast makes earlier forms of sound into ancient history. A distinction between the old and new in sound is crucial to Lesser's aesthetic. The fragments of clear instrumental sound that do appear seem isolated in this new environment, and when substantive dialogue appears (as in 'Voice O'Reason') it has an absurdist quality. There is a reflexive relationship involved, one that uses this old-new contrast as both technique and purpose in its own right.
The album's final track, 'Decomposing Jockey', feels like auditory life trapped inside the final and climatic crowd scene of Nathaniel West's Day of the Locust. There is no actual musical crescendo; instead, it is the deconstruction of a social crescendo in which voices whirl about and fly off into a fearful electronic blackness. It is a mad carnivalesque statement and a virtuoso performance by a musical collage-maker. I played 'Obligatory Glitch Worship' again and again, for it seemed to call up images of July 4th crowds in my youth and open-mouthed 'ooooo's from the crowd entranced by the fireworks. Tracks like these two work at a deep level of consciousness, one that explores the relationship between individuals and mass gatherings.
Gearhound is an accomplished and thoughtful album that expands vocabularies, musical and otherwise.
Gearhound will be available in January from Matador Europe