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(5 Rue Christine; US: 24 Jan 2006; UK: 23 Jan 2006)

This is the sort of thing that makes musicians want to quit.

The claim made by the folks responsible for promoting Excepter is that the entire, 28-minute Sunbomber EP was recorded in under an hour.  The whole thing.  Under an hour.  Most bands and record labels would kill for that sort of efficiency.  Can you imagine a big-name rock band walking into a studio and telling the recording engineer that they’re only going to need an hour?  That band would probably get laughed right out of the studio.  Major label artists might spend that long to perfect the level and the tone of a triangle hit (for example) at the end of a single chorus.  That a band can record for an hour and wrap an entire release (even if it is an EP) is awfully close to being a middle finger to any band that would spend weeks or even years perfecting its studio sound.

Of course, we must make some allowances for the fact that Excepter is an improv-noise outfit, so making things up on the fly is the point of its music, rather than a mere indicator of how impressively its members have got their act together.

The music on Sunbomber is pretty close to what one might expect from an improvisational session that involves mostly synths, samplers, drum boxes and various sound effect-makers.  There’s the occasional wind instrument, and sometimes some fairly unintelligible vocals make their way into the mix, but for the most part, it’s largely computer-generated organized chaos. 

Sunbomber‘s best moments, despite Excepter’s tendency toward the unorganized, are the places where that chaos comes together to create something that actually outdoes the sum of its many disparate parts.  The second track on the EP, called “Second Chances”, drops most of the noise about halfway through for the sake of highlighting a clumsy-yet-powerful percussion line, on top of which is laid a rhythmic staccato synth sound, creating a sort of rhythmic counterpoint that actually adds power to the quirky beat rather than distracting from it.  As “Second Chances” progresses from this point, the sounds added are atmospheric, spacey, and all over the place in the mix, as it culminates in a short stretch where the beat picks up to a point where, if you tried real hard, you could actually tap your foot while the song crumbles around it.

More impressive than any technical achievement, however, is the evocative nature of the noise, a noise that unwaveringly projects heat—the distant mirage of bubbling pavement, the gentle haze in the hot summer sky, the unrelenting attack of a hot sun on exposed skin, it can all be heard here somewhere.  The disc is called Sunbomber for a reason, it turns out.

As interesting and inspiring as Sunbomber can be, however, there is a limit to the lasting impact that a project of this immediacy can have.  On one hand, it’s an unfiltered look into an hour into the lives of four musicians (and a couple of their friends who stopped by to add extra wordless vocals) playing music on a typical day of summer heat.  On the other hand, it’s four musicians basically messing around with their instruments for an hour, trying to make something that sounds vaguely coherent out of a whole bunch of diametrically opposed parts.  That those parts actually occasionally come together to create something new and interesting could just as likely be a function of monkeys-at-typewriters syndrome as it is any sort of actual improvisational chemistry or skill.  Sunbomber is fascinating on the surface, but devoid of emotional investment, ultimately making it more curiosity than classic.


Mike Schiller is a software engineer in Buffalo, NY who enjoys filling the free time he finds with media of any sort -- music, movies, and lately, video games. Stepping into the role of PopMatters Multimedia editor in 2006 after having written music and game reviews for two years previous, he has renewed his passion for gaming to levels not seen since his fondly-remembered college days of ethernet-enabled dorm rooms and all-night Goldeneye marathons. His three children unconditionally approve of their father's most recent set of obsessions.

Tagged as: excepter
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