Double Exposure

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How can we define the relationship between Beck and The Beatles unless we abandon the idea that the 1960s marked the dawn of an across-the-board postmodern aesthetic?


Reviewed by Charlie Bertsch

Thursday, January 10 2002, 10:25 AM

I was underwhelmed by this EP the first few times I heard it. But it's been growing on me something savage, ferocious, rapacious, fell, and -- yes -- fierce. (My thesaurus is a T-Lex; how about yours?)

The delight I take in Double Exposure is cerebral. Let me demonstrate.

The problem with the concept of postmodernism, applied to everything from avant-garde poetry to parking garages, is that media have their own histories. A painting may draw upon hundreds of years of heritage. A rock album, by contrast, can only look back a few decades without making analogies to work in other modes. It's not hard to see how Philip Johnson's playful AT&T building in Manhattan reacts against the minimalist Modernism of the Bauhaus tradition. But how can we define the relationship between Beck and The Beatles unless we abandon the idea that the 1960s marked the dawn of an across-the-board postmodern aesthetic? The most promising approach might be to distinguish between the way rock music reflects what's going on in the rest of the cultural arena and the way it reflects on its own history.

Processed that? Anyway, while you're planning your contributions to this project, you might want to give this EP a listen. Because it is undoubtedly one of the most "postmodern" pieces of rock music ever recorded.

But let me digress.

Back in the early 1990s, I went to see the San Francisco Bay Area punk band Schlong in the basement of Telegraph Avenue fixture Larry Blake's. I had just finished a long session, appropriately enough, of assembling the magazine Bad Subjects: Political Education for Everyday Life (perhaps issue #10, Addiction?). I asked one of my co-volunteers to go to the show with me. Not only did she assent, she also shared some of the Valium her then husband had brought back from a "research" trip to the red-light districts of Southeast Asia. It was my first and only time on the big "V." And what a time it was. Everything was extremely slow and even more detailed. I could have sworn that I heard a hundred different influences in each tune. But the songs still made sense. In one case, a few bars of Buddy Holly gave way to a bridge from Minor Threat as gracefully as if they were the left and right feet of James Worthy pushing off for the rim.

After that night, I bought everything Schlong ever did. But, despite the joys of Punk Side Story -- their cover of Leonard Bernstein's musical Romeo and Juliet -- could never relive the magic of that night on the sawdust-filled floor of Blake's. It must have been the drug. But you know what? I'm as sober as St. Theresa these days and TransChamps's Double Exposurestill manages to reproduce that special feeling. My mind has to work so hard tracking all the references that I despair of reaching the end of each song. From the bad riffs of hair metal to the sort of New Age instrumentals you hear in shops that sell scented candles, TransChamps does a remarkable job of turning the dross of the culture industry into doubloons of pleasure. It helps that they mine richer veins as well: Allman Brothers' white soul and the clipped chords of Public Image Limited and Gang of Four (and in the same jam, no less!). Yet most of the blame rests with the members of Trans Am and The Fucking Champs who pull it all together.

So what about postmodernism? I'm obviously "reading" Double Exposureas a reflection on rock history. But it would be hard to disagree with someone who argues that the record also reflects the ambient postmodernism in our culture. At a time when not just novels and buildings, but films and food have broken free from the demands of tradition -- anybody for whole wheat vermicelli with a Hunan smoked pork pancetta and Pacific Northwest wild mushroom "sugo rosso"? -- there's something appropriate about music that presents us with more songs about, yes, songs.

(And I apologize profusely to those of you who did not need the interjection of a "yes" in that last sentence).

Go get the record and tell me what you think.

Double Exposure is available from Thrill Jockey 

Copyright © 2002 by Charlie Bertsch. All rights reserved.

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