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Alien Whale throws bottles, Matt Berry embraces his synth geek
(Care in the Community)
The NYC trio Alien Whale is perhaps like some bizarro-world version of the synth-punk band Suicide that chooses to only play at roadhouses.
In this writer’s mind, the fantasy scenario involves keytars, regrettable haircuts and Patrick Swayze’s ghost wearing a sleeveless shirt, while the audience throws empty Busch bottles at the stage in order to signify approval. Live recordings from Alien Whale seem to convey this scene, although the new self-titled studio EP from the band is a bit more controlled and perhaps a little less wild and unrestrained.
The opening track “Astral Projections and Suicidal Thoughts” pounds away at a two-note organ pattern with locomotive drumming from Nick Lesley, arc-weld guitar lines from Colin Langenus plus keyboard soloing from Matt Mottel.
Although it stays together, the number seems to convey the notion that it could fall apart at any minute, like a custom-built jerry-rigged muscle car hurtling down the highway with a brick on the gas pedal, accelerating to alarming speeds.
“Space Boots Foots to Foots” has an electric-blues bar-rock cock-of-the-walk gait with a helping of Dutch courage, mixing psychedelic rock with a smidgen of jazz and not standing in one particular bucket for too long. The EP’s second half consists of the long track “Anointus Venomous Atlanticus” which takes the riffage into slower territory, conveying a bombastic and grandiose attitude over the duration.
For Alien Whale’s self-titled EP, the mood hits the right note, but the EP could benefit from having a delivery that was a bit more unpolished and uncertain.
With more of a sense of danger and more of the wailing solos and sprawl of the group’s live performances, it would be the difference between a car on fire going 90 miles an hour down a desert highway, and a car on fire driving at top speed off a cliff.
Music for Insomniacs
British comedian and musician Matt Berry—a star of such offbeat television series as The IT Crowd and Snuff Box—overcame a bout of insomnia last year by turning his sleeplessness into musical creativity.
His new album, Music for Insomniacs, was recorded solely by Berry in his home studio at nighttime, and it’s a departure from his previous folk-prog-pop albums such as Witchazel and Kill the Wolf and nothing like his musical parodies. (By the way, his delivery of “One Track Lover” from Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace belongs in the pantheon of brilliantly spot-on ’80s-music-video parodies.)
The photo on the album’s back cover, with Berry sitting among a multitude of analog synthesizers, squarely places the effort in the context of ’60s/’70s synth pioneers, like Wendy Carlos or Jean Michel Jarre.
The album’s title might lead one to expect an ambient album like those made by Brian Eno, and although it is largely serene and agreeable, it is hardly ambient music, with a few, choice passages that are disquieting, jarring and downright strange.
Those who choose to use Music for Insomniacs as a sleep aid may find themselves as sleepless as before, or perhaps haunted with bizarre, sinister dreams—the title could very well be Berry’s idea of a joke.
The first of two side-length parts is a clear homage to Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells, most famously used as the theme for the film The Exorcist, with a definite ’70s horror-film vibe, like Goblin’s theme from Suspiria. Unsettling moods give way to tender passages with acoustic and electric pianos and soothing patterns.
Berry uses vocal and field recordings to confuse the situation; among the sounds heard are children playing, women laughing, wordless singing and a tiny unsettling bit of faint screaming. The track ends by leaning toward synth pop with Vocoder vocals, finishing in a place far away from where it began.
Part II is similarly unpredictable, with swooshes and the sound of being plunged into water. A glorious arrival is seemingly signified with choir-type singing, although a baby crying and the tiny notes of a music box are also heard, and the album’s driving conclusion takes a few tips from Kraftwerk.
Slyly, Berry has stated about this “experiment,” that “If the experiment is successful you shouldn’t remember it,” so technically, he can’t lose. If this album had come out in 1968, it would have been deemed a masterpiece, but now in 2014, it’s more like a respectable attempt by someone who is clearly a synth geek paying tribute to his influences.