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Call Me on the Allophone, Names Divine: Rob Steele and the Black Relationship

img  Tobias Fischer

On first listen, Rob Steele and the Black Relationship--the first album by Call Me on the Allophone, Names Divine--is about as far from “refined” as one can imagine. There’s little care for intonation on the part of either the vocals or the stuttering electric guitar. The songs ramble in a lazy, stream-of-consciousness manner that makes song forms (if they exist) virtually unrecognizable. The single noticeable instance of auto-tune (on the 35-second opener “Hope”) is as a tool of abstraction as opposed to one of refinement. With the exception of a few sparse instances, the music never coalesces into regular (or regularly irregular) rhythms. Most of the album sounds as if it was recorded on a low-quality microphone in a garage. But where normally, the aforementioned factors would add up to an unlistenable, juvenile recording, Rob Steele manages to be a raw exaltation of the punk rock/experimental music ideal along the lines of Lou Reed’s Metal Music or Pauline Oliveros’ early experiments in tape music.

Most of the album’s first half has a marked “demo” quality. In “Bear Costume,” drunken, quasi-tonal vocals over a single droning, detuned guitar deliver ballads about dressing up in bear costumes and unsuccessfully following someone home to say hello. Similarly, “Where Flamingos Fly” and “Travel the Road a Piece” marry damaged guitar spasms with droning violin and fluttering out-of-key recorders. Initially the listen is a bit frustrating, but as the music unfolds, you find yourself suspended in a garage-cum-conceptual artspace. The result is bizarrely intriguing and surprisingly enjoyable.

Rob Steele and the Black Relationship doesn’t fully take off, however, until the album’s midpoint--a squalling guitar distortion/electronic feedback composition called “Space-heatrr.” The piece’s middle section--nearly 5 minutes of a low end motor-like sound of varying oscillations--acts as an all-encompassing mantra of warm noise minimalism reminiscent of Xenakis’ “Concret PH” or Sonic Youth’s noise experiments. Likewise, “Dear Damian, sup, luv, kendra” is a haunting, meditative stew of microtonal acoustic guitar bends, bass rumbles, and analog tape hiss. The slow Sun O)))-style deconstruction of “First Abduction,” is constructed almost entirely around slowly strangled guitar-lines and a pulsing, single bass note, making for a beautifully nightmarish sound.

Along with functioning as innovative and evocative stand-alone pieces, these instrumentals set the rest of the album into as much of a “new music” context as it does one of lo-fi punk (minus the aggression). In this way, the whole is what really makes the disparate parts. After taking in the aforementioned instrumentals, the droning, sloppy “Babies in the Harbor” seems a necessary facet of the album’s sonic space; the initially trying songs of the album’s first half become innovative performance art pieces.

By Hannis Brown

Homepage: Names Devine, Call me on the Allophone

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