Review: Excepter – Familiar

(Vinyl LP, Blast First Petite, May 2014)

The NYC perennial experimental electronics unit Excepter have distanced themselves to other experimental or “difficult listening” groups with their sheer, surrealist sense of humor and their connection to the video media, creating a few music videos for every album featuring members of the band themselves blending crazy, psychedelic visuals with ritualistic acting somewhere between Jodorowsky and the music videos by the Spanish film studio CANADA. I can only imagine what would happen if Excepter and guys from CANADA joined powers to create the ultimately psychedelic music videos for one of their songs. That would be the next level. But so far we’ve got a pretty video for the opening track, “Maids”, made by the band themselves:

A perfect album opener, an energetic, uplifting piece that is practically pop music by Excepter’s standards (but still too weird for about 85% of the population), the Lala Ryan’s vocals soar angelically above the propelling IDM-ish rhythm and a Kraftwerkian synth with John Fell Ryan’s deadpan vocals hiding in the background, only to emerge once in a while between the reverbed wall of Lala’s vocals. The next piece is equally rhythmical, like something borrowed from Cluster and improved, with modern-day effects and structures added. Walls of reverbed and processed vocals roll over piano loops and an ascending and descending synth arpeggio.

The last time I listened to Excepter was in 2010, when they released their lengthy double album Presidency, where some of the tracks ranged between 10 and 30 minutes, focused on hypnotic repetition (the endless four-note sequence from the monstrous half-hour title track is now stuck in my mind forever). On Familiar, however, they return to the more song-oriented, shorter and more concise format, indeed creating somehting sounding eerily familiar (like I said before – certain Cluster influences for example). The influences and ideas are thrown all over the album, except molded and adapted for Excepter’s needs, and everything has that eerie semi-melodic air that follows all that is churned out by Excepter, both live and in the studio. The dystopian, chaotic “Destroy” picks up a dissonant, repetitive, paranoid state which can induce panic attacks: the wailing synth sounds just like an air raid siren, while sudden bleeps and bloops sound like machine guns blaring away. On “Grinning in Your Face” the urban paranoia is translated into a spoken word passage over a cavernous mutant techno rhythm, fried and tribal, nearly Swans-like in its intensity. The sudden release and a happy ending comes with the finishing “Song to the Siren”, a piano ballad with John on the vocals, with all the psychedelic bliss left in and all other Excepter dada weirdness out.

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