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Kid606

Songs About Fucking Steve Albini

(Important; US: 23 Mar 2010; UK: 5 Apr 2010)

When it came to popular music made with machines, the aughts were all about dancing. To clarify: Daft Punk’s breakthrough superhit Discovery kicked the decade off with a bang, announcing that nu-metal and big beat were dead, the robot apocalypse was nigh, and if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em. What followed was ten years of happy high-hats and buoyant bass, some synthetic and some real, at least when it came to artists occupying the forefront of the general and critical consciousness (Justice, MSTRKFT, Girl Talk, Lady Gaga, Robyn, anything on DFA). There was a surge of great IDM from the likes of Squarepusher, Autechre, Clark, and the like, but except for an Aphex Twin single or two, this particular brand of electronic music never broke free from its particular, proudly scene status. Moody was no longer cool, so these artists and their fans stayed willingly in the margins.


With this situation in mind, it could be quipped that Kid606 is a party-pooper to both sides of the dancefloor. Having gained a reputation for arriving at left-field techno by way of industrial metal and lo-fi rock, the San Francisco-based producer has always seemed to take some serious satisfaction in disloyalty to his assigned genre—the title of his early cut “Luke Vibert Can Kiss My Indie-Punk Whiteboy Ass” says it all. Even when, on his first recordings, he stuck close to a breakcore sound, there was still a sense of snarky detachment, a Zappa-like marriage of mastery and lampoon that smirks and asks, “Why so serious?”  When he crosses over and dips his toes in the waters of pop, though, he’s no less recalcitrant. Last year’s Shout at the Döner typified this attitude. As a take on hardcore house, it was doggedly filthy and frenetic, and a shitload of fun, especially the opening single, “***”. But then there was “Mr. Wobble’s Nightmare”. which typified Kid606’s cooler-than-thou detachment by turning a policeman’s news of a son’s death by cannibalism at a rave into a hook. Funny, yes, but relentless.


Now it’s a new decade, and Kid606 has jumped off the dancefloor entirely and left the rhythm section behind for Songs About Fucking Steve Albini. I’m sure the complete absence here of his namesake, the TR-606 drum machine used by Albini’s old gig Big Black, isn’t lost on him. In fact, for a record named after Big Black’s last and finest album, it really has nothing at all to do with Songs About Fucking, Steve Albini, or fucking Steve Albini. The only apparent holdover is the loads of static roaring out of the speakers, but whereas Albini deployed noise to scuzz out snide pop and invent industrial, Kid606 uses it as a staple component of slow-burn glitch epics. Another similarity is that, to put it simply, both albums are kind of brilliant.


The absence of a rhythm section doesn’t mean there’s no rhythm. The opening track, “Dim Ego Prelude”, lulls us in with a percussive, repetitive synth figure, while modulated soundwaves pulsate to and fro in the background. It sounds like something beamed in from 1970s Berlin, and, following that aesthetic, evokes images of sterile, sun-drenched sci-fi expanses from the cover illustrations of L. Ron Hubbard pocket novels. “Odd Ripe Legume” follows with a continuation of these soundwaves, but gradually amps them up. What are initially low-volume, medium-pitch waves of atmospheric sound approach abrasiveness as the decibels rise, like a pendulum working in reverse. “Mild Pureed Ego” works similarly by piling scratchy organ chords on top of each other until the harmonics cancel out and morph into a massive blob of black noise. The prelude’s beat is a red herring: it’s dynamics, not rhythm, that motorize Songs About Fucking Steve Albini.


This stuff isn’t unusual for Kid606. Back at the turn of the millennium, he made a name for himself on Mille Plateaux’s Clicks and Cuts compilations, making spacey soundscapes out of, well, clicks and cuts. In a way, this new LP is recourse to his roots. In this sense, “Periled Emu God” is a bone thrown to fans of the older Kid606, with its shimmering drones and rapid-fire skipping. Even here, though, the track warps and swells, whereas even the non-dance tracks of earlier LPs like P.S. I Love You followed deliberate, if subtle, structures, to the point that they almost sounded like actual songs played on a broken Discman.


On Songs, everything has had the song drained out of it. The discernible samples, few as they are, float in and out of the mix as discrete elements, never gelling into a cohesive whole. As a result, they form a sort of uncanny ambience, situated uncomfortably between real and unreal, rendered even more tense and dark by their utter refusal to cop to pop. The album’s centerpiece, “Lou Reed Gimped”, exemplifies this tendency. It starts innocuously with an obscured, gentle vocal loop. A minute and a half go by, and two more melancholic voices are added, then clipped applause, then doom-laden violin. A rave organ shows up, electrical noises sputter throughout, and the intonation collapses. This keeps up for a little over ten minutes, building horizontally, never resolving, never repeating itself. This is noise at its very best: thrilling, intricate, and endlessly volatile.


Of course, unless you’re a fan of Load Records and Merzbow, you might take a listen yourself and have no idea what I’m talking about. To many ears, this all will sound harsh and unfriendly, like Shout at the Döner but without the beats or the hooks. And producer’s trademark stridence is indeed all over his latest. What separates Songs About Fucking Steve Albini, though, is a seriousness of purpose. Kid606 has heralded the new decade by turning from a snarky provocateur into a self-alienating artist. Even the usual points of entry for more adventurous listeners, like the moody, cinematic sonics that make most modern ambient music more accessible, are conspicuously absent.


Songs About Fucking Steve Albini is, above all else, all about itself. It’s challenging, confrontational, and consistently rewarding. It’s a proposition of something new after a decade of electronica that either had to be raucous and rave-ready, or measured and mopey. It probably won’t catch on, because, unlike even Kid606’s most experimental earlier work, it’s defiantly undanceable. Those who don’t care, though, and take the plunge anyway, won’t be disappointed.

Rating:

Benjamin is a fairweather cinephile and closet pop pushover from the affluent swamplands of Princeton, New Jersey. Nestled happily in the moist cocoon of post-graduate work at Northwestern University, he writes on music in his fleeting spare time and should probably be ignored at all costs.


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4 Aug 2009
Master of the musical pun, Kid606 still lives up to his puerile namesake and brings us all down to his level for an amazingly fun journey through wonky-synth dance music.
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