It is very difficult to figure out what, exactly, to call GrndNtl Brnds’ music except, perhaps, confusing. Or confused. They do not appear to be entirely certain whether they are neo-punk, avant garde, straight ahead rock, or retro ‘70s art rock, so they try to mix it all together. The attempt is not much of a success. Listening to the CD and reading the cryptic liner notes brings to mind one of my favorite comments on artists, from the early ‘80s duo EBN-OZN: “All artists are potentially the victims of their own desire to be unique.” GrndNtl Brnds are evidently caught up in their desire to be Artistes, not just musicians. (One member of the band is billed as “Rich Wells, the avant garde composer”. THE avant garde composer? There’s only one?) Perhaps influenced by their neighbors, the excellent San Francisco Bay Area avant gardists The Residents and Negativland, they have tried too hard to put the emphasis on Being Artists. They’ve even created a semi-fictitious background described in terms and phrases that make no sense: “The new name reflects our core strength in Rock Music networking technology and our commitment to provide leading edge for the devlivery of Rock music-rich applications over the broadband Internet and enterprise networks.” Similar techno babble can be found in their description in the fictitious “GrndNtl Brnds’ Roctelsat Hot Bird” one could suppose this is their commentary on buzz-word filled technology discussions, but instead of satire, it’s just silly and pretentious. “Check us out!” it cries, “we’re artists, dig?” This desire to Be Unique has distracted them from their core business, if you will: making music.
It would be unfair to say Communicating for Influence is completely unlistenable; there are some melodic passages but alas, they are few and far between. The music is not boring, but there are long stretches during which we are left waiting for something interesting to happen. In song after song we are treated to whiny, nasal vocals and repetitious, droning guitar chords with nary even a guitar solo to break the monotony. The music is heavily derivative of Pere Ubu, Fred Frith, and King Crimson. However, it is also sterile and lacks creativity or humor. Crimson, Frith, et al can be unusual, way out of the mainstream, and frequently unmelodic, appealing to more intellectual listeners. There is great feeling in their playing, though, and their love for the form is evident. GrndNtl Brnds, unfortunately, comes off as a group that listened, decided they might want to try to reach for that intellectual audience, but didn’t understand why that music appealed to them. Thus, Communicating for Influence is a mishmash that cannot hold the listener’s attention for very long.