[5 January 2009]
Martin Rev has produced an astoundingly amateur-sounding album. This isn’t to say his playing in Suicide, the well-beloved and pioneering synth-punk group, was polished or professional. In fact, the overall lo-fi sloppiness and primitive, pounding drum-machine patterns stand out as some of the most endearing sonic qualities Suicide offered. Said qualities would later serve as a template for such sound assaults as Pan Sonic (who have, notably, recorded a pair of releases with Suicide singer Alan Vega as VVV). With his sinister sense of style, complete with huge shades, Rev remains the kind of innovator and icon of cool who only comes around once in every little while. Rev beat the Jesus and Mary Chain to the “we’re better because we don’t care, but perhaps we do” punch. No, Les Nymphes simply sounds incomplete and hastily assembled.
To begin with, Rev could lay off of the phasers a little bit. The whooshing phase-shift sound plays a pronounced role on nearly every track on Nymphes, and it need not. While phasing does enhance the other worldliness of messy pieces like “Les Nymphes Et La Mer”, it becomes an all-too obvious and lazy attempt to add spice on “Sophie Eagle”. Phase-shifting as a psycho-acoustic phenomenon occurred fairly regularly in Suicide’s output, but measuring Nymphes up against what Rev did three decades ago simply should not happen. As an artist, Rev is entitled to progress and leave his old sound behind; however, the cheap porn-groove electric guitars and caked-on digital sheen of this album prove to be ill-advised.
Les Nymphes draws on numerous mythologies for its loosely conceptual pieces. While the idea of such a unique artist as Rev tackling Ulysses and Circe, or Native American mythologies, sounds interesting on paper, the results prove to be prone to the excessive byproducts of conceptual overextension that plagued the worst of the prog rock albums. Ironically, these same prog rockers were poised at the opposite end of the spectrum from Suicide back in the late ‘70s. The truth is, Suicide is just too big an elephant in the room to ignore, especially with something as lackluster as Nymphes His last solo record, 2005’s To Live, ventured into the land of obscene reverb and fuzzy voices with the grit and edge that made Rev’s Suicide work so compelling. Rev loses himself when the gamble becomes Nymphes.
Furthermore, the goals of Les Nymphes—the chronicling of dreams and altered states of reality, sampling from cultural mythologies—are admirable. Rev opens up his horizons in ways few other artists seldom do; he continually takes significant risks in refusing to rest on his laurels, though Nymphes suffers from far too much reverb coupled with—what else—phase shifting and not enough substance. Like smoke, Nymphes is good with atmospherics, but it quickly dissipates and leaves one thinking, “That’s it?” One listen to the clichéd ‘80s-metal guitar loop of “Triton” should have listeners wondering whether it belongs in a low-budget fantasy flick. If Rev’s going for experimental, he’s landed on clunky and confused.
Two tracks do redeem: “Venise”, a dub-like trip of relaxed percussion and bubbling tones, fosters the kind of dream-like atmosphere Rev intended; and “Cupid” resides in an icy cave of club-lite bliss the song title seems to suggest. (One can’t help but wonder whether a proper house album should be next for Rev.) In the end, however, Rev’s name will garner the release attention, but its overall quality (or lack thereof) will preclude anyone but longtime, loyal listeners from giving Nymphes a second listen. All should be advised against writing of an artist as vital as Rev for one bad release. The cohesive moments illustrate that potential remains for this side of Rev, providing he regains focus and begins a relatively phaser-free next phase of his career.