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Whitehouse, "Racket"

cover imageSome 27 years into their notorious career, Whitehouse deserves credit for trying new things.  However, don't be mislead by cover artwork:  the difference between this and their last album is so small that this one could have probably been called Asceticists 2007.

 

Susan Lawly

Whitehouse - Racket

Being a Whitehouse "fan" can make for strange bedfellows.  In the realms of the avant garde, this admission can cause some people to pass judgment immediately, as they have always been a very polarizing band, most either love or hate them.  As one who does like them and has been a fan for a while, I would actually say that they have been on an upwards trend since Quality Time, each album growing a bit greater in depth and variety, and moving past the sophomoric lyrics of "I'm Coming Up Your Ass" that seemed to go so well with cheesy pornography and sticky peep booth floors.  The trend towards more psychoanalytic lyrics mixed alongside digital noise (not just the same old mangled Wasp synth from the '80s) have made each new album something I'd look forward to.  Which is why, in many ways, Racket is a let-down.

Coming only one year after the previous disc, Asceticists 2006, might have something to do with it.  There is no major jump thematically or stylistically between the two albums, and considering the sub 30 minute duration of both discs, it feels like a full length CD being sold as two separate works.  The most offensive musical link between the two is "Dumping More Fucking Rubbish," which is a simple re-recording of "Dumping The Fucking Rubbish" from Asceticists with a few extra lines.  It's not quite as blatant as rehashing "A Cunt Like You" for both Mummy and Daddy and Cruise, but it comes close.

Factoring that out, there are two compelling instrumental tracks. The sustained siren horns of "Fairground Muscle Twitcher" open the disc just somewhere between ambience and noise.  It's not as ear-shredding as most of their work, but it's not going to be heard in a new age shop anytime soon.  "The Avalanche" is much more subtle though, almost gentle bell like tones and crystalline rattles that is very out of the norm for this band.  The ending instrumental, "Bia Mintatu" amps the noise up a bit more, but not to chaotic levels:  bassy horn sounds over African percussion, with a bit of the old power electronics squeal towards the end.  William Bennett's fascination with Africa, beginning with the rumored self-created Extreme Music from Africa compilation is in full swing here.

This leaves three remaining tracks of "good ol'" Whitehouse, namely Philip Best and Bennett rambling over a harsh backing track.  Best takes center stage on the vocals for the most part, which is more effective in my opinion.  His angry rambling always seems to convey a better mood than Bennett's crazy cat lady caterwauling.  "Dyad" makes for the best example of this:  digitally manipulated djembe rhythms with both tag teaming the vocals with the best rage they could muster.

Racket is not a bad disc by any means; it just seems to follow too closely in its predecessor's footsteps to make it as instantly memorable as prior recent albums have been.  I suppose there is no easy way to balance this, because either there is more material released for the listeners that is not as individually notable, or there are long waiting periods between discs.  It most likely won't be nominated for any prestigious electronic arts awards this year, but it is still enjoyable, and does show their continuing mediating trend towards more conventional sounds.  A "conventional" Whitehouse album sounds absurd, but it may happen in our lifetimes.

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John Rifle, "Fracas Nurture"
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And from the "What the fuck is this?" file comes this CD from John Rifle. John Rifle is an enigma. He's obsessed with rabbits, as the album artwork shows, and pop culture, as the music shows. He's not happy with the way things are going in this world of ours, and he's taking action. Mostly minimal piano and drum-created music with sound samples on top, "Fracas Nurture" is a pretty strange and frightening listen, completely devoid of warnings or clearances. Most samples are taken from television source material like ABC News and VH1 Behind the Music, and the CD is assembled like one long radio broadcast from inside the mind of a lunatic. It's socially conscious, it's got its sights set on many different targets, including the music industry, fame, drug use and the media, and it's completely and totally out of its gourd. Never has sound collage music sounded this urgent, this driven, or this insane. It's like Negativland making the soundtrack for a reality TV/horror movie. Bob Weston recorded this music, and he has done an admirable job given how this material could drive anyone involved over the edge. Tom Waits once created a track like this with samples of Dan Rather, and this is like the dream that track touched upon fully realized. Occasionally the music takes on a real structure, like on 'Intercom', but not often. Mostly, it's spoken word performances, with a little music for good measure. It's a message, not exactly for the faint of heart, that has some music with it. It's a good project (can't really call it an album because it defies even that moniker), but needs to be absorbed in doses. This is too much for one sitting. Try it out, though, because it needs to be heard to be believed or understood.

 

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