Unconventional musicians are often said to make sound collages rather than songs. It’s normally an apt metaphor—artists who mix and match styles and whose music defies convenient categorization do, in essence, make an assemblage out of new and existing elements. And while the various elements might not make sense by themselves, experiencing them in a larger context gives them new shape and, therefore, meaning. Sometimes, though, the metaphor doesn’t accurately convey a band’s sound, but is merely a way of saying that it’s hard to explain.
The Eternals present such a quandary. Trying to describe their music requires extensive use of the hyphen (alternative-hip-hip-dub-electronic-drum-and-bass-dance-reggae?), and it’s easy to simply say they make sound collages. But this would be that instance where the metaphor is a copout rather than a revealing comparison, and someone unfamiliar with the band would be no closer to knowing anything about the Eternals. Besides, while making a collage requires a great degree of artistic skill, the word does imply a certain degree of chance and random collision. And while the Eternals mix and match styles like a fall clearance sale, they leave nothing to chance or random collision.
Their songs are more comparable to montages; like a director scrupulously selecting shots to edit together, the Eternals carefully select diverse elements and juxtapose them in unexpected ways, forcing the audience to make connections. They might, for instance, place a hip-hop bass line underneath a reggae rhythm, and while the two might not compliment one another, the way they vie for space creates a rhythmic tension each would lack alone. Or, frontman Damon Locks might skip snippets of lyrics across lounge keyboard to show how the syllables and notes collide. The effect is always entrancing, which shows the vast amount of forethought the Eternals put into their experiments.
Further displaying their devotion to experimentation, the Eternals offer High Anxiety, an EP of remixes of their songs. Here, though, they relinquish some artistic control, as several of the tracks are remixed by other musicians. Surprisingly, the remixes not only maintain the band’s focus, but some of them actually bolster the meticulous craftsmanship of the originals. For example, “Hi Anxiety” from the album Rawar Style is remixed by A Grape Dope, and he transforms the song from a drum and bass reggae rant into a hip-hop jam by downplaying the original’s deep bass and adding a hypnotic loop that propels the song. Later on the EP, Birthmark offers his own take on the song, which is renamed “Messing Up My Place”. Birthmark adds a different drumbeat that gives the track a more syncopated feel, and also adds background vocals. Both takes on the song preserve the original track’s emphasis—Locks’ skittering vocals—while transforming it into something completely new.
Other tracks are remixed by the Eternals themselves. “Silhouette” is softened from a stark work of chiaroscuro musicianship into a more reflective piece; Locks’ splintery phrasing is not only muffled in the remix, but also quelled by female backup vocals. In the background, echoes of drums bounce back and forth, while random noises crash and clang. Together, the muffled vocals and reverberating drums create a suffocating ambience, which underscores the song’s foreboding lyrics. “Billions of People” is given more edge, the dripping electronic noises in the original replaced with a muscular bass line and precise drumming. Rather than sounding like a resigned diatribe on political oppression, the remix possesses a menacing tone absent in the original, making it feel more like a call to action.
High Anxiety is meant to temporarily satiate the Eternals’ loyal following, but it’s a worthwhile accomplishment on its own. Not only does it serve as a concise synopsis of their career, it also emphasizes their commitment to forever tinker with noise. What emerges from these eight remixes is a band fully in control of their sonic chaos, even when giving control to other artists. This is no haphazard cut and paste; this is deft musicianship. And with a full-length release of original material slated for release later this year, the Eternals are poised to make ripples in the small pool of underground bands making real contributions to music.
// Notes from the Road
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