Tuesday, July 27, 2010

album of the day: Party Intellectuals

Hey, how bout some noise-art rock?

I bought this on the strength of Marc Ribot's guitar work on a couple Tom Waits albums in the 80s and 90s. I hadn't done any further research, and assumed that (a) Ribot was French, (b) his guitar work with Waits would exemplify his own music - being jazz-influenced, angular, a little distorted and reverby. So I picked this thing up, knowing nothing about it, in Berkeley, with our pals X-ina and Che.

On the way home, X-ina had the idea that we should play the music we'd bought that day in succession - a track from one cd, a track from another, and so forth. She put in Ribot's Ceramic Dog, and out came furious incomprehensible noise. This is not X-ina's kind of music. I suggested she could skip it, and I think she may have skipped the first track, but the next was even louder, and screechier, and harder to make sense of, especially in a car hurtling through - I dunno, Tracy? - at 75 mph.

I put it away for a couple weeks after that, until I decided it was the right kind of music for some complicated dish I was cooking. In that context, Ribot's slithering leads and blasting riffs from nowhere were absolutely perfect. If you like that kind of thing, which a handful of people obviously do, or else Art of Noise and Kraftwerk wouldn't have sold diddly-squat. (And of course they did sell diddly-squat, so there.)

So, not only is Marc Ribot a faux Frenchman (born in New Jersey), but his work with Waits didn't prepare me in the least for this. Certainly he's steeped in jazz. There are wicked solos throughout the album, and the backing band of Shazad Ismaily (who works some with ex-Soul Coughing lead Mike Doughty) and Ches Smith are excellent accompanists for him. But you really have to kind of like noise to make it through this.

That first incomprehensible blast on the album, it turns out, is none other than the Doors' "Break On Through (To The Other Side)," their first single in 1966. I was a huge Doors fan in high school, played two copies of The Doors to pieces, and I did not recognize this song. On my second listen, I only recognized it because I knew what it was - which might mean I didn't really, I'm not sure.

This is followed by the rave-ready title track, which puns on the idea of party intellectuals to the effect of imagining chic persons at a lowbrow party looking fairly stupid. Then there's "Todo El Mundo Es Kitsch," which is, I think, easily the stupidest song on the album, but I believe deliberately stupid. The song is sung by Janice Cruz in a parodically over-the-top American accent, recounting what seem to be European vacation exploits:

For lunch...
(Ribot sings: Por almorzar...)
We have gambas.
In Saint Tropez, We tanned on the beach.
Todo el mundo es kitsch.

And on and on. There's also cruelty humor directed at bad relationships, in the song "Girlfriend," in which the speaker admits that he doesn't like his girlfriend, would prefer to have sex with her best friend, "but she won't let me" (left with the ambiguous pronoun reference).

It's noise-art rock. It's high concept. This record was reviewed on NPR for crying out loud.

Sometimes, that's just the thing. (While I'm at it, I might as well admit that, occasionally, prog rock is just the thing.)

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