Friday, September 24, 2010

You've Got Foetus On Your Breath - Ache (1982)

Jim Thirlwell is native Australian (now living in New York) who has recorded under many different names over the years: You've Got Foetus On Your Breath, Scraping Foetus Off The Wheel, Foetus Inc., Foetus Interruptus, and most recently, just plain old Foetus. In case these rather eccentric choices don't clue you in, the music (and possibly the man behind it) is nuts. This is the second full length Foetus album, and while there are many other great examples of this man's music, I'm rather fond of this one.

Thirlwell is nothing if not controversial. The red, white and black Soviet/Fascist inspired cover art would be a theme throughout much of his career, and it's as provocative as it is visually compelling. The music is no less confrontational, although there is a pronounced sense of fun that is largely absent from the industrial music of his contemporaries. And while we're on the subject, Foetus has longed been lumped into the industrial category because of his abrasive use of synthesizers and drum machines and the DIY, punk-like spirit of his music, but in truth the sound varies so much that any real attempt to pigeonhole it is futile. I stick with the industrial label for reasons of convention.

So what does it sound like? It's actually kind of difficult to say. Thirlwell employs a huge variety of sounds on his records. Cheap Casio synths and low rent drum machines dominate, peppered with horns, bass, the occasional sample and most important Thirlwell's hyperactive, paranoid voice alternately yelping and growling. The keyboards are commuonly microtuned just a hair away from standard tuning to add to the audience's discomfort. The pace is almost uniformly frantic and it will surely get your heart pumping faster, but Thirlwell steers clear of repetitive techno-like loops in favor of jittery, ever shifting rhythms and busy arrangements. If this sounds unpleasant, it's because I haven't yet mentioned Thirlwell's gift for catchy hooks. The songs are surprisingly infectious, and a ton of fun if you're in the mood.

Stylistically, the record (like all Foetus records) is all over the map. From the film noir atmospherics of "J. Q. Murder" to the intentionally obnoxious repetition of "Get Out Of My House" to the inexplicable fixation on the theme from "Rawhide" that shows up halfway through the album and refuses to go away, you never know quite what to expect. The highlight for me is tha album's final track, "Instead, I Became Anenome." It's such a bizarre, yet fun tune and the lyrics are exceptional.

Lyrics have always been an important part of the Foetus sound. Thirlwell excells at clever wordplay, punning and free association rhymes that come out of nowhere. Made up words like "antihistorectomy" are common as well.

So while not for the faint of heart, Foetus offers a guaranteed wild ride that, if it doesn't excite you, will at least annoy your neighbors.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Bill Nelson - Quit Dreaming And Get On The Beam (1981)

Bill Nelson rose to prominence in the seventies as the frontman for the British glam rock outfit Be Bop Deluxe, an excellent band in its own right that gets all too little recognition these days. After a five album run however, Nelson tired of the limits of guitar heroism and conventional rock structures. He dissolved the group and set out on his own to make music his own way.

Nelson's songwriting with Be Bop Deluxe was always quirky, but in the privacy of his home studio he quickly became much more experimental. "Quit Dreaming And Get On The Beam" is his second proper full length as a solo artist (his first if you discount the previous record, technically released under the Red Noise moniker) and the sound is radically different from his earlier efforts. Nelson has fully embraced the aesthetic of post punk and new wave, while still managing to sound unique and experimental.

The songs are notable for their catchiness and their lack of guitar pyrotechnics. With Be Bop Deluxe, Nelson's guitar wizardry was the centerpiece of many a tune. Not so here, where he prefers to tinker with synthesizers and twiddle knobs as a producer/engineer. It is as a producer that he really shines, crafting dense, complex arrangements for his tunes that make for a more demanding listening experience than ordinary rock production.

Nelson's performance style has also changed a bit. He has a fondness for angular melodies that can come acoross as abrasive and his singing eschews the conventional in favor of the kind of frantic yelping often associated with new wave bands such as Talking Heads. Certain tracks are reminiscient of Berlin-era David Bowie, where others offer slightly skewed, yet charged up rock and could have been hit singles.

Bill Nelson's work as a solo artist has been all but ignored for thee decades now, despite dozens of fascinating releases. "Quit Dreaming And Get On The Beam" is not the most wildly experiemental of these, but it is one of the earliest and paints a fascinating picture of the artist finding his way past the limits of a traditional rock band. The CD reissue contains seven bonus tracks culled from EPs and singles of the same era.