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Old 08-17-2009, 08:06 PM   #16 (permalink)
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Default Brise-Glace - When In Vanitas... (1994)

Released by Skin Graft

Track list:
1. Neither Yield nor Reap (7:03)
2. Host of Latecomers (4:00)
3. Stump of a Drowner (3:58)
4. Restrained From Do and Will Not (Leave) (10:53)
5. One Syntactical Unit (24:12)

Dylan Posa – guitar
Darin Gray – bass
Jim O’Rourke – guitar, organ, avant-garde samples
Thymme Jones – drums

Brise-Glace were a project that famously involved Jim O’Rourke while he was also playing with noise and other music with David Grubbs in Gastr Del Sol. He teamed up with other experimental musicians and they recorded When In Vanitas… and gave another engineering credit to Steve Albini. I don't know if it is because this music was made during the carefree days of the Clinton administration when college kids and other slackers had plenty of free time to indulge in their artistic whims or if these guys are important musicians on a larger level than just experimental rock music. I really don’t. But here is what I think of the five songs that comprise the one LP that these musicians made together.

‘Neither Yield nor Reap’ starts with a spare, lazy guitar line and, after a couple minutes, O’Rourke injects some sound effects and ambient noise that build to a mad industrial noise beat. That fads out as Jones starts a jazzy, swinging beat that he pulled straight out of the 1940s. This eventually devolves into scratchy static stabs that close out the song.

‘Host of Latecomers’ has a sparse, drawn out intro that is hardly noticeable but it gets louder and a rousing drum beat enters (presumably to wake you up) and backs up O’Rourke playing with sounds.

‘Stump of a Downer’ has the drums and other beats kicked up a notch. They provide head-nodding rhythm behind improvised-sounding guitar riffs and strums; they all go on like this for a while before degenerating into sampled noise and finishing up. This is a really nice track. It’s short, catchy, and blissed out. It’s good when art music makes you feel that way.

‘Restrained from Do and Will Not (Leave)’ finds Brise-Glace getting down to the essence of what it means to be an experimental rock band. Lots of noodling, random drum beats, and playing with feedback. It’s always very mellow like the band is jamming like Mingus and Monk (who are, in this case, Kim Gordon and Thurston Moore). Halfway through, the beat gets insistent and then we are treated with a long stretch of silence. If you turn it way up you’ll hear some of O’Rourke’s ‘found sounds’. This song is a supremely artsy way to spend ten minutes.

#5. 'One Syntactical Unit'. This is it. Here it is. Like Helen of Troy’s face launched one thousand ships, this song launched one thousand post-rock bands. A slow melody opens the song before drums bring the tension up to a hypnotic, soothing level. O’Rourke buzzes around the background with ambient noise that sounds like tree frogs and all the other creatures that live outside on summer nights. About five minutes in we get a spacey interlude. More O’Rourke I guess. Another five minutes later the band plays together again as quiet guitar riffs introduce another raucous beat the likes of which we have not heard since track #1. Art/Music/Drama all wrapped into one. I wonder how many kids dropped out of art school to pursue their music because of this song. I’ll bet there are a few. O’Rourke throws on a bunch of random stuff next which thankfully includes some good vintage jazz singing and blues guitar. It’s a good little break from his other, more meandering sounds. Drums return after a while and backup more noise until they crescendo to a noisy peak that marks the climax of the song, the album, and the band. Distorted lounge jazz buried low in the mix finishes it all.

When In Vanitas… strikes you with a brazen and audacious mixture of playfulness and seriousness. I can’t tell if they made this album for joy or for artistic expression but, either way, the result is art music that never loses sight of the fact that they are a band making music. This was serious avant-garde music made in the mid-1990s. Oddly enough, in certain ways this album makes more sense than a lot of other supposedly generation-defining music made at that time. One thing that Brise-Glace were not was bored; When In Vanitas… is proof of that.


Last edited by Engine; 08-17-2009 at 08:41 PM.
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