Judging An Album By Its … Liner Notes
On 3/4hadbeeneliminated’s second album, A Year of the Aural Gauge Operation, you can take a glance at the album’s immensely brief liner notes to find out what each of these four Italians played on this album: Tony does all the drums and percussion, Stefano adds guitar and bass, while… turntables? Field recordings? Tape loops? “Objects”? Yes, these are all actual instruments. If these don’t send up flags going “this is gonna be weird”, then you’re in for a surprise.
Sparse, dark, brooding, and atmospheric, this “electronacoustic” quartet is all about the atmosphere. Like shoving Slint into a dark basement with a bunch of random objects, this is the audio equivalent of wandering around an unfamiliar woodland area in the pitch black of night. Sounds, clacks, clicks all appear around you and at unexpected times. A light bulb shattering on concrete. Mourning moans of pain out in the distance. The thump-thump-thump of what couldn’t possibly be footsteps. Sound like the crappiest high school fiction paper you’ve ever read? It should, but what you read is different from what you hear.
If you want dark and creepy horror-movie sounds, buy a sound effect CD. If you have patience and want a brooding, rewarding musical experience, then this is for you. “Labour Chant” is a bunch of dark hollowed sounds for four minutes, followed by a guitar and accordion number faintly trickling in during the last 90 seconds, like ghosts playing the last thing they heard before they died. “Wave Bye Bye to the King”, on the other hand, is a slow-build of bass-line plucks and ascending synths, painting an aural story in your mind. The whole mood of the piece shifts very early on, soon followed by more “sound effect lulls” and then the faintest of disjointed keyboard melodies playing overhead while ghosts pass below. At the seven-minute point, they randomly decide to become a band, bringing in drums, one-note guitar strums and confused, slurred vocals. If you’re still trying to “make sense” out of this album, you’ve still got a long ways to go.
If all these descriptions are coming off as pseudo-poetical (pretentious, even?), then that’s because there really is no other way to describe their sound. A pastiche of found-sound clips and half-conscious minimal rock jams, this album feels like the soundtrack that is forever on repeat in David Lynch’s mind (or Stan Brackage, for that matter). If you’re wondering where the actual full-length “songs” are, you won’t be terribly disappointed, just mostly. “Monkey Talk” is an actual song that starts off as apocalypse-jazz with outer-space keyboards, but switches up half-way through to reveal an early Sonic Youth-feel guitar jam that is actually rather pleasant. “In Every Tree a Heartache” is near-cinematic in nature, with a gradual keyboard swell building up and building up until fizzling out just before the climax. As strange as it may seem, it’s actually not all that frustrating. Instead, you find your face riddled with question marks, because it’s clear very early on that any time you expect the album to go one direction, it goes the exact opposite.
An album like this is hard to describe and even harder to sell (though there already is a niche for this kind of thing). This isn’t something you’ll find rocketing up year-end Top 10 lists anytime soon. Yet, for what it is, this is a strange, twisting, bizarre, but incredibly memorable listening experience. Its one of those discs that when it finally stops spinning, you might just re-think what all music should sound like.