Saturday, June 21, 2008

Music Rec

Hooray for new format! I am a terrible writer, thus I have no balls to critique critics. Music recommendation for the week:

This Heat - This Heat

This is from '79? Or thereabouts. (Thank god I don't have to write a review of this). There are three contributers to the record. We hear them function as a unit of guitar, 'boards, and drums, but they're all multi-instrumentalists. I make note of this because it was strangely apparent, even on the most studioriffic tracks that some aspect of performance was occurring. I'm getting ahead of myself.

This record is exactly what I've been looking for for the past two years. Ever since I fell in love with compositional technique from the second half of the 20th century I've been searching for a record that presents like-minded material. That wasn't my only criteria, though, as I wanted a RECORD. I didn't want some poorly recorded live performance by a group of faceless instrumentalists, written by some out-of-touch pansy, and delivered to me via an orchestra - the tonal equivalent of the 8-bit generation of videogame consoles (hardcore, yes, but unable to deliver my idea of gameplay). I wanted a record and This Heat delivered.

"Testcard" opens the record. 47 seconds of a quietly recorded high-pitched synthetic drone. Sounds like a combination of modified sine waves with radio interference. This is such a typical way to open a work, but because it's so short, it comes across as inconsequential. After such an abstract opening, This Heat hit us hard with second track "Horizontal Hold." This song introduces us to the band. It begins with a room mic on them, the drums playing fast in 4 but being felt in a groovy 2; guitar quickly strumming some mid-range distorted cluster; while the keyboard lurches a bass groove highlighting M7th and octave leaps. Typical punks! But after only a handful of repetitions of the groove, the listener is suddenly taken out of the recording room and is presented with an abstract landscape of percussion. Everything is now close-micced (miced? neither look right). We hear the click and clack of the drums and guitar, while the keyboard continues the up and down motion of the previous chunk, only now stretched out with an extreme low chord followed by a lower midrange one. This continues for just a short bit before the band explodes into a section that highlights the tonal expanse that the band can take up. The guitar plays a searing lead riff, the drums making clear use of the crash while providing a stomping rhythm, while the keyboard presents more frequency-filling sine waves. This is all juxtaposed with utter silence. Classic. And yet so poignant!

I won't go on to describe the rest of the song, as I just wanted to talk about enough of the music to display an attention to detail of composition and construction. In order to convey the performative aspect of the material presented, they played with mic-placement in a way that allowed for them to do something as abstract as close-micing (and thus placing the instruments on an abstract plane to be delivered through the speakers and understood within the listening room) and still convey the SUCKERPUNCH of what a fucking tight band they are. As I said earlier, there are some rather abstractly recorded moments, but because of the way they present their awareness of micing issues, one never loses that visceral feeling. And that, to me, is totally awesome.

In order to keep this recommendation from being striaght-up analysis, I'll be briefer and more excited for the rest.

There is singing on four of the tracks. Perfectly executed! There's a wonderful balance in the way they move from instrumentals to songs with vocals without any break in the continuity. It's amazing! Speaking of continuity: although "Horizontal Hold" is all about rhythm with pitch-content kept to a scant dissonance, This Heat do not hold back from lyricism and display a keen sense of memorable lines (even when they're being as clever as controlling pitch-content do we find that they never let their intellectualism of pitch choice get in the way of simple experience enjoyment). WOW! They're amazing.

Did I mention that (since this was released as an LP originally) the A side is the same aesthetic experience as the B side? Rhythmic openers ("Horizontal Hold" and "24 Hour Loop"), followed by unmoored keyboard drones which ease into a songy moment ("Not Waving" and "Diet of Worms"/"Music of Escaping Gas"), etc. I'll let you put together the rest! It's fun! And that seemingly inconsequential opening "Testcard" becomes something immensely powerful and spine-chilling when it returns to close the record (the context is BRILLIANT!).

I like this record. It is experimental, yes, but everything is brilliantly executed and there is NO FAT on this record, as every moment lasts just as long as it needs. This Heat made a record that I love. And these last few weeks with it have been so much happier for it. So get it, k?

1 comment:

Evan said...

Just picked up "Deceit" a few days ago. So much more visceral! Plus it seems like they're not using a similar language to "This Heat"; feels less cohesive and more like really great collection of songs artfully placed next to each other. I need more time to devour the record, but anyone wanna have a go at "Deceit" and prove me wrong?