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CD Feature/ Black Rebel Motorcycle Club: "The Effects of 333"

img  Tobias

You can't argue with disappointment. Only minutes after „The Effects of 333“ had been made available, first confused entries and comments were being made to BRMC's MySpace Account and their official forum. A challenging listen to some, most fans would gladly have returned the supposed digital mess they downloaded from the band's servers to their new and shining online store straight away. Or, in a more Freud'ean move, shoved it up their black, rebellious behinds. Not since the days of „Kid A“ has an album created such a stir both online and offline (if you forget about the positive row that the Annimal Collective are currently stirring) and rarely has a formation shown such a blatant disinterest in what their audience expects from them. In the absence of major marketing campaigns, the most astounding thing about the controversy is that it is based on nothing but the music alone. There is no hype at work here: After listening to this album, you will know exactly what the outcry is all about. And if it doesn't do the trick for you, no clever explanations or emphatic analyses will do any good to alleviate the pain.

Publishing these pieces, recorded on the road over an extensive period of time, is certainly a wayward manoeuver. In contrast to the band's recognisable blend of raw, unpolished and mantric Rock, which received a bluesy revision on previous ful-length „Baby 81“, „The Effects of 333“ represents an unapologetic work of dark Sound Art. Veering away from hypnotic songwriting and turning towards free-flowing soundscape-building, Robert Been and Peter Hayes have sought inspiration in anything from experimental Musique Concrete, Electroacoustic Improvisation and early Industrial to Krautrock, Folk and Country. Billing the result as a work in the Ambient vein may make sense on a repeat listen, but hardly to anyone thinking of Brian Eno or Fennesz: With its extremely uneasy surface tension and constantly shifting structures, there is nothing comforting or subliminal about „333“ at all.

It is therefore bound to remain an odd duck in the BRMC discography for  quite a while, regardless of whether it should suddenly turn into a genre classic like Lou Reed's „Metal Machine Music“. The latter comparison, too,  however motivated it may seem in some ways, appears desperately unlikely, however. The most remarkable thing about „The Effects of 333“, in fact, is not its stylistic swing per se, but how much Been and Hayes have remained recognisable as musicians underneath the sonic debris. Even though they probably wouldn't mind being considered as acoustic outlaws, their album lacks the severe stringency and serenity of Reed's monochromatic vision. It doesn't cater to the depressed monotony and bleak apocalyptic outlooks of the Gothic underground either. What it boils down to is that the band are far too quickly bored to allow their noisy semblances to doze off for minutes without direction and they're too musical to restrain themselves to a monolithic statement of sixty minutes of pure sound.

Which is why, as the album progresses, a stylistic tandem starts to establish itself . After three tracks of harsh bleeps and dramaturgical texture tectonics, accessible Guitar instrumentals take turns with agile soundscapes replete with distortion, tremmolo and aggressive collisions. „And with this comes“, arguably the pivotal point of the album, sees gloomy drones swirl around a plaintive chord cycle, while „A Twisted State“ and „Or Needed“ are acoustic folk miniatures, occasionally adorned by distant harmonic chorals. Closing track „And When was Better“, meanwhile, drifts off into an uncertain future on the wings of sinister pads and a dense sheet of barely discernible vocal samples. If there were some kind of story here, one would undoubtedly refer to „The Effects of 333“ as a concept album. As it is, its bizarre genre-references make it seem like a bewildering conflation of romantic cheesyness and an unsatiable (and sometimes irrational) lust for exploration - like „Brokeback Mountain“ being shot in the middle of a Volcano.

If you're coming from the sound art world rather than from rock, of course, the confusion is hard to comprehend. Comparable releases, at least to these ears, have definitely sounded far less accessible and far more amorphous than this one. It is almost comical, too, how Black Rebel Motorcycle Club are now being chastised for practising exactly what they have been preaching all the time: Doing what you want regardless of what others may think, never going commercial and never catering to cliched demands. On the other hand, fans must be forgiven for being disappointed and undecided about whether this is a piece of sonic art which requires several spins before making sense or a rather bizarre statement by a band stretching its credit to the limit. Because it is probably both.

By Tobias Fischer

Homepage: Black Rebel Motorcycle Club

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