“In many ways, we’re fundamentally an anti-social band.”
—John Fell Ryan, Excepter
Listening to Excepter I either feel less human, or like everyone else is less human, or like human isn’t really a desirable thing to be.
Listening to Excepter causes me to redefine downwards what, exactly, I think the limits of humanity are; not in terms of some sort of debasement, but in the same sense that minimalism makes me redefine art. Minimalism shows us that elements we thought were essential to art are merely contingent and widely used (Excepter do this too). Excepter shows me that elements I thought necessary for consciousness, for awareness, and for activity are also just contingent and widely used. It’s not like they’re pretending to be zombies or anything corny like that, but the fact that their music is so inescapably, messily human while remaining almost totally unengaged with self-consciousness or the normal kind of everyday reflexivity that seemed (to me) like a basic requirement for the functioning human being gives me pause.
Listening to Excepter makes you realise how weird ‘rhythm’ really is.
Listening to Excepter if they had existed even, say, 15 years ago would have been almost wholly the preserve of critics; like (for example) David Lynch’s INLAND EMPIRE it’s art that only makes sense/is satisfying if you’ve experienced too much other art. People used to complain a lot more about the way that film and music critics would love and extoll just really off-the-wall stuff that no ‘normal’ person, who could only see films and hear albums by spending money, would want to see. Because critics heard and saw so much more than most people (it being the golden age of the promo), they would get burned out on the kind of ‘normal’ pleasures most of their audience were looking for. In this age of illegal downloading, eMusic and Netflix, the audience that we write for can experience just as much art as we can with minimal difficulty, can get jaded just as fast, can crave the strange thrill of an obtuse art film or of Excepter’s protean swirl of broken down genre barriers and half-functioning electronics just as much as we do. And so Excepter is both weirdly prophetic and capable of being freighted down with portentous bullshit by writers who can’t help but be driven slightly crazy by the endlessly suggestive blank page of their music; fitting for a band that’s as much influenced by Lovecraft and Dick as by anything else.
Listening to Excepter can be a lot of fun, whether or not you have experienced hard drugs at some point in your life.
Listening to Presidence will take you two hours, 17 minutes and 36 seconds if you don’t count changing between the two discs.
Listening to Presidence practically flies by, if you’re in the right mood. It contains multitudes. Neophytes should almost certainly start with 2006’s great Alternation; songs like “The ‘Rock’ Stepper” or “Ice Cream Van” are the most successful melding they’ve managed of Excepter-music and any sort of conventional rock (or whatever) structure. Nothing here is that straightforward, but much of it is as satisfying. “Leng” and “OG” make for a fantastic 35-minute ambient suite, the synth-heavy 33-minute title track is immensely gripping, the six parts of the 31-minute “Teleportation” could stand alone as their own album, and so on. But the point isn’t to atomize Presidence down to its parts, it’s to wallow in the whole and its cumulative effect (the album was recorded in one long improvised take and it should probably be listened to in the same spirit). This is the band that gave us the first five-hour MP3 recording; band producer/mastermind John Fell Ryan has stated in interviews that they started to play longer shows “to go beyond simple catharsis… to get beyond the shock and go further.” By the time you get to, say, the 21-minute “The Open Well” you’ve either given up on experiencing Excepter as music and are swearing at your speakers or you’ve given in, let them colonize part of your brainstem and are experiencing the album as a pure reflex arc. And that’s before the nursery rhyme melody comes in.
Listening to Presidence is exactly like listening to any other Excepter release, except that it isn’t.
Listening to Presidence, I actually forgot until I went to submit this review that I needed to rate it out of ten. The idea actually made me a laugh a little, one of those strangled little laughs that comes from panic as much as anything else. I fully expect that most of the people reading this would kind of hate Excepter, and I don’t say that in a hipper-than-thou kind of way. I don’t think that wanting to listen to Excepter is a sign of cool, open-mindedness, good taste, or any other laudable quality. I imagine most people who hear Excepter dismiss it as bullshit and like most of their fans I can’t really argue with that. All I can really do is keep insisting that there’s something in this music, that for those fortunate/completely screwed few that Excepter hits just right, this stuff is as viscerally thrilling as rock music, as deep as dub, as calming as ambient, as compulsive as techno, as bracing as free improvisation. But the nature of their work is such that I have trouble ranking Presidence among their other efforts, let alone compared to other kinds of music. I tend to forget about Excepter for weeks or months or even a year at a time, then get dragged back in by something—a review, a mention in something I read, waking up with “Whirl Wind” in my head—and suddenly I’m on an all-Excepter diet for days. Like the Goslings or Joy Division or ambient dub, it’s such strong medicine that you can either foreswear it completely or go on binges. When I am on a binge, sometimes I’ll feel like hearing Presidence, sometimes one of their other records.
Listening to Presidence is probably good for you.