PopMatters is moving to WordPress in December. We will continue to publish on this site as we work on the move. We aim to make it a seamless experience for readers.

Music

Theatre of Disco: Theatre of Disco

Timothy Gabriele

The only thing obstructing Theatre of Disco from wheelbarrows of high praise is the fact that you can only occasionally make out what they are saying.


Theatre of Disco

Theatre of Disco

Label: Risky Disco
Australia release date: 2007-11-10
US Release Date: Available as import
UK Release Date: Available as import
Amazon
iTunes

You'd be hard-pressed to come up with a more generic bullshit band name than Theatre of Disco. The literal amalgamation of the outfit's two Aussie talents, James Brennan, whose background is in theater, and Ollie Chang, whose background is in…yawn. Going on name alone, you might expect within you the ability to recite their self-titled album's entire tracklisting from muscle memory alone. What's that, you say? Self-titled? You mean they weren't even creative enough to come up with a proper name for their first album?

Okay, so Theatre of Disco are not too hung up on words. In turn, not too many words have been written about them yet either. Believe it or not, though, their lack of basic lingual prowess actually works in their favor on their debut EP. In fact, Theatre of Disco only really transform into the embarrassment their name suggests when their rhythmically fragmented vocals are decrypted enough to form recognizable semantic particles from the English language.

Even then, the result is hypnotic. It's as if words are forming from the abstract language of Chang's mechanized phoneme cut-ups, like images emerging in psychedelic fractal patterns. Take, for example, the sea of echodroned esophageal cutlets at the beginning of "On the Train", which fester and brew like an incoming signal of the Scissor Sisters being digitally deciphered by keyboards before exploding into strobing freeze-frames of fantastic Prince-style yelps and scrambled porn moans. The effect is a disorienting whirlwind. Trying to get a grasp on it is like trying to follow the hi hat in a drill n' bass track. Brennan, the vocalist, hollers out James Brown as filtered through Venetian Snares as the production occasionally lets us hear an "Ow!", a "Hey!" or a "Hallelujah"!

Chang is the wizard behind the Theatre's curtain, handling all the musical duties and making sure the disco-pop elements are up to snuff. His only credit to date is a stint in the eclectic Australian chillout group Ubin, though he has made a fine career writing music for commercials (including the most surreal Fancy Feast commercial ever). Brennan, a former parole officer and stage director, has the mics and wields them with a wild flair and ferocity somewhere between Flight of the Conchords and Beck's "Debra", but nowhere even approaching sincerity.

Chang's sounds are often analog bubblebaths of pretty arpeggiated bounce (opener "Go Fifi"), not unlike the warm colors felt throughout the work of Black Moth Super Rainbow, the Knife, or the Twelves, who coincidently just released their remix of this album's "Yoa". There are two departures from this style on the EP: the meandering and unfocused "Party at Plato's" and "Oke", a dreamy rock song with some stop-start hits and gauzy shoegaze guitars that would make Serena Maneesh jealous. Even here, though, the lyrics are unintelligible, perhaps again for our benefit.

For five of the album's seven tracks, sung vocals get monosyllabically chopped and stylized into dominating melodic slices, leaving only the faintest dust trail of their original meanings. It's true avant-pop, either post-literal or pre-verbal/infantile, depending on your interpretation. Hugo Ball by way of William S. Burroughs, with a bit of burlesque humor thrown into the mix.

However, it seems unlikely Chang and Brennan immersed themselves in poststructuralist theory before laying down choruses like, "Everybody on the train's got herpes / They've got STDs and the Burpies". Chang noted in one interview that their preferred aesthetic is "slapdash", often using mistakes and, one assumes, misspeaks as the precipice for experimentation. It's a good thing they do, because it may be possible that what's lurking beneath the veneer of Theatre of Disco's swell electro funk is no more than a series of insipid jokes.

The stream of consciousness ranting on "Donnie Disco" finds one male singer touting his motorbike skills and spurting the unwisely lucid line, "When I go to work / I say 'Fuck you / I'm not a computer programmer / I'm just, like, a cool dude'." Another female vocalist has a conversation with a date about monkeys and whales, leading her to conclude "Yah, I like environmental issues" in a pie-faced valley girl accent.

Theatre of Disco need not be admonished for trying to incorporate shtick into their grooves. Plenty of bands successfully merge humor with their sonic repertoire and are strengthened by it. When a song's punchline doesn't catch, though, all of its fun energy can instantly turn torpid, as is the case with "Donnie Disco". Chang and Brennan already have enough enlivening moments present on Theatre of Disco to fall back on the cymbal crash and the laugh track.

"On the Train" and "Yoa," in particular, cracked me up by showing, not telling. In these songs, the cut-ups are the yucks themselves. Those songs use the truncated canvas of micro-editing to pack an impressive punch of suggestive candor, such as the way in which Brennan seems to call everyone a motherfucker in "On the Train", or rather a "muh-tha-uh-eh". Or when he explains, and for a moment it makes total sense, that "Everyone's all wooo-eee" in "Yoa". To my ears, those howls are more risqué than anything 2 Live Crew could have dreamed up. And though Theatre of Disco's particular brand of synthpop is comfortably distant from the five-year-dead electroclash movement, Theatre of Disco should be extra-cautious that they not devolve into another W.I.T. or Avenue D. What they have, gimmicky though it may be, is too good to let that happen.

6

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology provider that we have until December to move off their service. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to fund the move and further development.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Music

Artemis Is the Latest Jazz Supergroup

A Blue Note supergroup happens to be made up of women, exclusively. Artemis is an inconsistent outing, but it dazzles just often enough.

Books

Horrors in the Closet: A Closet Full of Monsters

A closet full of monsters is a scary place where "straight people" can safely negotiate and articulate their fascination and/or dread of "difference" in sexuality.

Music

'Wildflowers & All the Rest' Is Tom Petty's Masterpiece

Wildflowers is a masterpiece because Tom Petty was a good enough songwriter by that point to communicate exactly what was on his mind in the most devastating way possible.

Music

Jazz Composer Maria Schneider Takes on the "Data Lords" in Song

Grammy-winning jazz composer Maria Schneider released Data Lords partly as a reaction to her outrage that streaming music services are harvesting the data of listeners even as they pay musicians so little that creativity is at risk. She speaks with us about the project.

Music

The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 100-81

PopMatters' best albums of the 2000s begin with a series of records that span epic metal, ornate indie folk, and a terrifying work of electronic music.

Books

The Power of Restraint in Sophie Yanow, Paco Roca, and Elisa Macellari's New Graphic Novels

The magical quality that makes or breaks a graphic novel lies somewhere in that liminal space in which art and literature intersect.

Books

'People of the City' Is an Unrelenting Critique of Colonial Ideology and Praxis

Cyprian Ekwensi's People of the City is a vivid tale of class struggle and identity reclamation in the shadows of colonialism's reign.

Music

1979's 'This Heat' Remains a Lodestone for Avant-Rock Adventure

On their self-titled debut, available for the first time on digital formats, This Heat delivered an all-time classic stitched together from several years of experiments.

Film

'The Edge of Democracy' and Parallels of Political Crises

Academy Award-nominated documentary The Edge of Democracy, now streaming on Netflix, lays bare the political parallels of the rise of Bolsonaro's Brazil with Trump's America.

Music

The Pogues' 'The BBC Sessions 1984-1986' Honors Working-Class Heroes

The Pogues' BBC Sessions 1984-1986 is a welcome chapter in the musical story of these working-class heroes, who reminded listeners of the beauty and dignity of the strong, sooty backs upon which our industrialized world was built.

Music

Mary Halvorson Creates Cacophony to Aestheticize on 'Artlessly Falling'

Mary Halvorson's Artlessly Falling is a challenging album with tracks comprised of improvisational fragments more than based on compositional theory. Halvorson uses the various elements to aestheticize the confusing world around her.

Music

15 Overlooked and Underrated Albums of the 1990s

With every "Best of the '90s" retrospective comes a predictable list of entries. Here are 15 albums that are often overlooked as worthy of placing in these lists, and are too often underrated as some of the best records from the decade.

Books

'A Peculiar Indifference' Takes on Violence in Black America

Pulitzer Prize finalist Elliott Currie's scrupulous investigation of the impacts of violence on Black Americans, A Peculiar Indifference, shows the damaging effect of widespread suffering and identifies an achievable solution.

Music

20 Songs From the 1990s That Time Forgot

Rather than listening to Spotify's latest playlist, give the tunes from this reminiscence of lost '90s singles a spin.

Film

Delightful 'Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day' Is Good Escapism

Now streaming on Amazon Prime, Bharat Nalluri's 2008 romantic comedy, Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, provides pleasant respite in these times of doom and gloom.

Film

The 10 Best Horror Movie Remakes

The horror genre has produced some remake junk. In the case of these ten treats, the update delivers something definitive.

Television

Flirting with Demons at Home, or, When TV Movies Were Evil

Just in time for Halloween, a new Blu-ray from Kino Lorber presents sparkling 2K digital restorations of TV movies that have been missing for decades: Fear No Evil (1969) and its sequel, Ritual of Evil (1970).

Music

Magick Mountain Are Having a Party But Is the Audience Invited?

Garage rockers Magick Mountain debut with Weird Feelings, an album big on fuzz but light on hooks.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.