Thursday, September 1, 2005

Records In Review: New Musik--Warp

I thought I'd better finish off this particular express train of thought, since I've got little else to talk about at the moment. For impressions of the first two New Musik albums, click here and here.

The band's third and final album Warp sees them stripped down to a three-piece, with Mr. Mansfield joined by Clive Gates on keys and Cliff Venner on percussion, but, as with Anywhere, Tony M. is the alpha and omega (he produces and designs the sleeves, yet again). The sound is much sparer than on the previous two records. The atmospheric, multi-layered wall of keyboard sound of Anywhere is here replaced by arrangements that feature protuberant beatboxes, (I'm assuming) first generation Simmons electronic drums, chilly synths and "that" piano sound which would turn up again in places like this (actual paying gigs for Mansfield, which soon became his bread-and-butter). The songs are generally more upfront in both their musical and lyrical sentiments, and there's some rather obvious "message" here and there.

If From A To B and (particularly) Anywhere exist in NM's own little enclosed universe, then Warp's sonic world and choice of material sees the group breaking out of it somewhat, and with only mixed success. There are very good moments and some undoubtedly interesting bits of sonic experimentation, but there is also the feeling that the album is sabotaging its own momentum on more than one occasion and that the various songwriting, motivic and sound elements never quite come together. And it doesn't help that the material is by far the weakest of the three studio albums.

Side A, like side B, is a continuous run, with abrupt joins between songs. I remember CFNY here in Toronto having a hell of a time playing tracks from the record without getting a bit of the following track on air as well! Perhaps this was an evil scheme to get more airplay..? Anyway, the first side is pretty good. Some listeners reacted negatively to the slightly funky, "positivity"-sounding opener "Here Come The People," but I've always liked it; in fact, it's one of the few places where the hippy-dippy approach works. It's simple, but it sounds great, with it's surging synth bass line, electronic drum fills and charming octaved piano melody. The sing-along "A Train On Twisted Tracks" is probably my favourite album track: very touching, without being maudlin--well, maybe just a little. "Going Round Again" is very spaced out, sonically speaking, and has some striking instrumental entrances (as well as the first--gasp!--sexualized lyric in the New Musik ouevre), but is let down by the chorus. "I Repeat" is true to its title: measured pace, repetitive vocal melody and chord sequence (with no chorus). The effect is kind of funny but mostly freaky with a weird tension to it...which is completely dissipated by the ensuing two "versions" of "All You Need Is Love." The first is an original, and can best be described as inoffensively naive. The second is a four-square cover of the old warhorse and a complete waste of time, replete with a less-than-inspired vocal performance and some cheesy electronics. Blech.

Side B is a real mixed bag. "Kingdoms For Horses" is a good application of the sparser sound and contains some effective shifts in musical perspective as the sounds gradually build up and move in and out. "The New Evolutionist" is an effective straight-four acoustic guitar-led number that reminds me of a more worldly version of "Living By Numbers" from From A To B. The concluding track "Warp" bears a resemblance to "I Repeat" in terms of the incessant chilliness of its electronic finale, but is more conventional in structure, which I think lessens the impact a little. Still a good one, though. The remainder of the material isn't exactly shit-hot. "Hunting" is ponderous and doesn't develop much. "Green and Red (Respectively)" waves the electronic flag but doesn't do much else. The biggest jeer, though, I reserve for "The Planet Doesn't Mind," which, as you might guess, is the most obvious of the "message" songs and is, well, pretty embarrassing and not particularly inspired.

Warp may be a failed experiment, but it's still interesting in places and best listened to in chunks when the mood takes you. It's a shame that this ended up being New Musik's swan-song. Ah, what might have been...

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

Hi there Robert. Enjoyed your reviews of both albums very much. I run a Yahoo group dedicated to New Musik (Please Google it up if interested). Unfortunately I cannot find my way to your review of the From A To B album, as the links seem dead. Any chance you could provide this URL? Many thanks!


RichardM

Robert G. said...

Richard,

Thanks for the kind words, and my advertisers thank you for the extra site traffic. I imported these posts from a now-deceased blog and haven't bothered to update the dud links. My reviews, such as they are, are listed on the sidebar.

This gentleman is the other person on blogspot to list NM in his 'favourite music' profile:

http://www.oldpunks.com

He's bigger than me, but I'm better looking.

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