Never Let 'em See You Sweat
Convinced I’d discovered System of Survival’s m.o. – Deny the body! Abdicate corporeality! – I decided to take them running through the forest preserve. All my family, we all sweat like stalactites (a natural phenomenon, simply what’s expected from us genetically), and these serene Italian DJs seemed the best antiperspirants on the global market. Listening to their debut Needle and Thread, it’s all straight lines and cool, crisp gestures, guest voices cut free from their bodies and processed like daemons severed from flesh (corpses don’t sweat) and jarred in a dry goods pantry, no moisture anywhere. These songs’ll keep for centuries. They’ll still be fresh when the roving hordes of cannibals take over.
I assume nobody sweats when they dance to SoS at the DJs’ home base of Circo Loco, DC10, Ibiza (address yr fanmail there), unless they happen to spot one of those lunatic clowns that rove in hordes across the dance floor, exacting flesh as tribute. Since clowns held my family hostage in youth, I can’t look at them, so as I was saying I decided to visit the forest preserve instead. At a picnic pavilion, the spectre of a child’s birthday party sent a tremor through my bowels, but fortunately they hadn’t invited any clowns, unless you count the apish Dad trying to finagle kids into the bouncy house – “Cmon Tyler! It’ll be FUN!” – without regard for the sanctity of their youthful limbs and psyches. After staring at this sordid scene a moment with murderous rage settling in my chest like chutney, I decided to run it off.
As soon as I hit the forest path my iPod did that thing where it shuffles the playlist, I have no idea how to turn that off, so an ordered analysis of Needle and Thread was out of the question. First up was “Phat Trax”, which reputedly has to do with Chicago house, but whose midrange synth squiggles sounded more Krautrock without a backbeat. (But maybe that’s what Chicago house evokes?) Disembodied dude shouts “Bep!” every so often, echoing, and a cymbal trades off with a bass-y squelch and a two-note piano figure for place of prominence, one falling while another rises. As I ran and listened, nature grew neater. Not “neat” like “Wow Tyler, isn’t that spiderweb neat?”, but Apollonian, ordered, the exquisite craft of a spider shitting out thread and organizing it into God’s mathematics. SoS don’t really capture the “shitting out” part of the equation, but they do God’s math like nobody’s bizness, and anyway maybe they’re just taking the broader view: how all nature’s brutality – sweating, devouring, fucking, um, excreting, basically anything involving an orifice that tunnels inside your skin – belongs to a system so logical we can’t even comprehend it. The spider spins the web, catches the fly, numbs it down, spins it ‘round, sucks out its liquefied innards (I may be forgetting a step), and the fly becomes a new web for his friends. It’s a system of survival, at least for the spider.
We humans have what you might call “extrapolated” on this idea of survival, which is why we created minimal techno and birthday parties. When “Nihil” came on, I thought, OK, this’ll be the one that breaks down the Apollonian facade, but really its rackety denials are just as serene as the rest; it’d slip neatly into the background of one of those swank cocktail parties where everyone struggles to pretend they’re not actually eating or drinking. (As would the smooth-jazz-leaning “I Can’t Find Food”.) Soul diva singing something close to words, switching up with an attackless whoosh of a riff, and then a bare-bones beat and handclaps that aren’t actually handclaps. The beat manages to be tricky but smooth. “Genny Casanova”, which PJ Harvey should cover, is your basic lady muttering in foreign tongue over motorik groove, and its wash of cymbal coincided nicely with me running through a swarm of gnats. Little whip sounds indicated I should be whipping some part of my body, probably arms, abruptly and forcefully, and I complied because that’s what you do with gnats.
Ascending a hill into a clearing overlooking a sunset field full of cows in various states of repose, and all of them chewing, I stopped to mop my forehead and reflect that of all God’s creatures there’s none grosser than the gentle cow. A real slap in the faces of the anti-corporeal crowd, these beasts: four digestive chambers, endless regurgitation, mountains of feces and sore nipples, and each of them probably knows someone who’s been slaughtered. As their presence saddened and reassured me, my jaw began tapping up and down in time to the music (my wife detests this habit), a sad and reassuring downtempo whose disembodied woman sang “Go to sleep my little baby ... everybody’s gone,” and some chopped snippet of a phrase ... “God is good”? “Body’s dead”? Vice versa? The name of this bovine accompaniment: “Moovin Groovin”. System of Survival understand more than they let on.
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