ossibly the world’s most famous concept band, Negativland have emerged from the studio to bring their first full length recording since 1997’s Dispepsi. This time the concept, as paraphrased from Negativland’s website is “the electro-acoustic sound of the Negativland recording studio being destroyed in a car crash.” Along with the CD, however, apparently is packaged a 64 page book (which was not sent with promotional copies, for obvious reasons). This book acts independent of the music to document the cars that the group explored while making this record.
The music itself, however, is reminiscent of the great early composers of electronic music. Lamonte Young and Iannis Xenakis immediately come to mind as forebearers to this type of sound. It is within Young’s and Xenakis’ work, however, that we hear a dynamism or ecstasy of sound and experimentation as they conducted some of the first forays into these types of sound. In Negativland’s case, the experimentation and meticulousness of the compositions are obviously here but acting as a part of another project slightly debilitates the music from reveling in its otherworldly qualities that made Young and Xenakis so fascinating.
For music fans, this release will act as one of the weirder Negativland albums to hit the shelf. Eschewing proper melody or reaction against copyright infringement, Negativland has delved into something far more personal and insular on this release. While the idea of delving into the cars of local wrecking yards and their contents is an interesting one, the music that emerges from it is noticeably weak, in comparison to other works in the genre.
The concept however is first rate. By continually taking bits and pieces of other music sources and tiny scraps of audio, Negativland play into the fact that what they find in the cars of the local junkyards are merely scraps and small sources of actual people’s lives. What we get here is not full songs but remnants and ideas that remain frustratingly unable to coalesce into anything meaningful or coherent. As a metaphor for looking at the ephemeral elements of a person’s car, this concept holds up well through the entirety of the record. As something to listen to in anything other than this context, however, the album ends up being a chore to listen to. While Negativland will also have a handle on the conceptual aspects of music- how and why people make it, who actually owns it, and how real life can be translated into sound- it seems also painfully clear that they may never bridge the gap fully between concept and product. As interesting as the ideas of Dispepsi and this new release are, the results are far from satisfying.