5 Rue Christine
t the beginning of 2001: A Space Odyssey, there’s that heroic sequence of all the apes ringing around the obelisk and then smashing some bones. They don’t show the part where the apes fling shit at each other or pick gnats out of their matted back hair or when the apes move to Bushwick, Brooklyn and start a band called Excepter. Excepter is self-conscious dawn-of-music music and Alternation is their dawn-of-dance album: rudimentary experimentations in sound, rhythm, and vocalization without gloss or hurry. Sometimes their meanderings are blissful, like a plant growing in time-lapse; other times, nothing—(k)id impulses can be revelatory, but, like those times you ate dirt, they can also be dumb.
Does this make Excepter pretentious? No. I mean, yes. Well, it’s the worst, most dangerous pretension of all: they want you to imagine that you’ve never really familiarized yourself with musical structure or expression in your life. It’s the pretension of no pretensions. People can and will bristle at this—“Come back when you’re done experimenting, then”—but really, Excepter have remarkable restraint. If you’ve ever played music, you know that it’s truly hard to be radical; it’s hard to make music that sounds as convincingly regressive as Alternation without drifting instinctively into straightforward safe havens of melody, cadence, and climax. (Drugs with Excepter, are, of course, a red herring—if you give someone an instrument and some drugs, they will end up playing something that sounds like “Wish You Were Here” or a distended “Redemption Song”). Of course, I blame no one for opting out of Excepter. If they were par for the course, an eagle would be riff and a double bogey would just be the sound of someone throwing up onto a record player.
The band bills Alternation as their "debut" record, which is apt. Apt because factually, it's a blatant lie, but spiritually, it's true—Excepter are enchanting bullshitters. They've also gone through considerable lineup and stylistic changes since the dark new-age drones of 2002's KA; they're a shell or shadow of who they were four years ago. The Mid-2K period of the band documented on Alternation took root in the Self-Destruction and Sunbomber EPs: deadened, post-party grope-fests that ditched guitars and cavernous drones for flat bleeps and clumsy drum machine patterns. With Excepter, it's always your first time. And that's what makes them different from other Brooklyn neo-tribalists like Gang Gang Dance or Black Dice: rather than reaching for civilization, they stall on first words and rudimentary gestures.
Of course, Excepter do understand music and Alternation does have referents: there’s dub and deejay vocal, there’s the minimal groove of Throbbing Gristle; there’s the sound effect and crusty synth fetishism of horror movie soundtracks. What makes them kin is a hypnotic, dissociated quality. In the soundstripping of dub or the grotesqueries of TG or the entire fucking genre of horror is some promise or suggestion that before—before convention and structure; before sense, even—was a time when we could be free. Which, of course, is drug/pillow talk, but Excepter isn’t without self-awareness; it’s ironic that a zombie’s best musical modus operandi turns out to be dance, a bodily expression that can be as tight as a flex or as unbridled and involuntary as a diarrhea. In Excepter, the automata meet the freaks.
Vocalist and ex-NNCKer John Fell Ryan usually just burbles like he’s freshly concussed, but on Alternation he learns some real words and how to enunciate them. He’s capable of self-recognition (“This is John speaking!”), interpersonal interaction (“I’d like to introduce you to our machines, but I forgot their names”), and “Do Your Ears Hang Low?”; he even crawls through a deejay boast (“Rock Stepper’s gonna knock on the wall / No net is gonna break your fall”). There’s a sense in which it’s reasonable to think that the most disappointing part of Day of the Dead is when Dr. Logan keeps that zombie named Bub and tries to teach him how to be human—so lame, this attempted taming. Then, of course, there’s the fact that orangutans have been observed on the banks of rivers folding socks. For no apparent purpose; it’s just another uncanny product of mimicry. Ryan could be human, but he could just be aping.