Bass and Superstructure
Reviewed by Aaron Shuman
Thursday, January 25 2001, 4:39 PM
For my tastes, Aphasic isn't far enough removed from Alec Empire's digital hardcore and the punk crust on it. Rather than explode rock's verse/chorus/solo format, Aphasic too often settles into it, on tracks such as "Superstructure I" and "II." In place of dub's sense of stackable rhythms, building upon each other to unlock fresh vistas, Aphasic offers beats that grow increasingly monotonous, before ending abruptly in electronic squeals. The "Superstructure" tracks offer riffage, not deliverance, and if the point is to kill rock's form by employing it, that's aiming too low, particularly when a wide range of electronic artists are producing more musically integrative and powerfully effective assaults on rock's temple. Saying "rock is dead" when the international youth language is hip-hop simply isn't novel or interesting anymore. Let Colonel Kurtz slide underwater, where the fishies may pick his bones. Rack his crates, and be done with him.
The CD's final cut, "Despair in the Community," offers a hint of what's at stake. "Despair" is the voice of a Travis Bickle threatening to kill himself, and "community" is his self-reflexive world of one, which he attempts to pull the listener into by asking, "Is that what you want?" after every change in beat. Aphasic works his voice through pitch-shifters, pulling it to extremes more clownish than even the most elastic-tongued rapper can manage, and set this against a backdrop that transmutes spook-howl trebles into flatulent bass and back again. On a track sure to annoy anyone who has ever been the unrelenting focus of another's affections, the death of rock begets masculine despair, in a method far less enjoyable, educational, or visionary than Bikini Kill's. I waited patiently for "Despair" to die, not enjoying the track enough to appreciate the "lesson" I received at the end, where the answer to the despondent's question is revealed to be the fraudulence of his and our expectations of pop. "All life's miseries, solved in an hour's worth of effort. Bravo!," Travis mutters, and so ends our twenty-two minute trip through the import bin.
So Aphasic is either rock's greatest theorist and satirist, or a punk who discovered programming rather late in the game. While laying claims to the former, he is far closer to the latter than this lo-fi techno-revolutionary would likely admit. This isn't a condemnable thing, and there are rides on the CD's other three cuts that bump most pleasurably along. Bump, in this case, refers both to the ragga-style dancehall sound system bass used to best effect on "Bloody Nora," and the particular fracture and disjuncture which Aphasic works into his mix. But ultimately, the ride isn't pleasurable enough to justify the trip, unless you've got the money for the ticket.
While Aphasic has seized the means of production, unlike the accomplishments of Bjork and Lars Von Trier in Dancer in the Dark, he has yet to make machines sing, at least on this CD. And that may be the point, if you accept Aphasic's characterization ofhmself asbeing more clever and more hardcore than everyone else. What's remarkable about Bass and Superstructure is how the music imposes its context upon the listener: in order for its opening squall of feedback and everything thereafter to truly be enjoyable, you have to unplug your headphones and get down to the squat where it's being made.
Just compelling enough to feed an interest in this artist,Bass and Superstructure's self-replicating music promises to destroy itself in collective action on the dance floor, where consumers might produce a new world in line with the materialist worldview embedded in the album title . The hope is that as Aphasic works outhis grammar on CD, that he build lines of greater complexity in presence and future. Coming up with excellent puns on Marxist phraseology, and beats as bludgeoning as the superstructure itself is an excellent place to start.
Bass and Superstructure is an Ambush Records release