Thursday, May 19, 2005

Album Review: Death in Vegas - Satan's Circus

Many of my favorite bands, perhaps the second tier in my pantheon, are those that have maintained a consistent run of very good to great albums over a sustained period of time. They may not be responsible for any of my Desert Island Discs but instead have provided a substantial catalog that I can always turn to.

Death in Vegas is one of my Tony Gwynn groups (great baseball player whose career was based on getting lots of singles and doubles rather than and maintaining a high batting average, rather than hitting home runs but little else). I got into them during my days at Formula PR - I worked there during the promotion of their second album, The Contino Sessions. The main man, Richard Fearless (other member of DIV is Tim Holmes), would send his publicist cryptic quotes from
Jean Luc Godard - I thought "what a jackass" as Godard brought back all kinds of bad memories from one of my film classes. When they came to town for their press day on that album, one of my co-workers was sent to Brooklyn to buy their greens - I guess an implicit rider for having to do interviews all day is entitlement to a bag of dank. Contino clicked for me in an unconventional way - a couple of singles where they bring in a lead singer (Iggy Pop's performance on "Aisha," Liam Gallagher on the title track for the next album, Scorpio Rising and others in that vein), but a lot of instrumental, ambient musings. Usually sinister sounding in a very soundtrack-centric way, their music is often very effective at eliciting feelings and images.

DIV had always been a hype group - but being a hype group is easy when you always have a couple of collaborations on your albums. Somewhere along the way, the hype waned on them, and at the same time, they decided to make a cold as fuck Teutonic instrumental album (equal parts krautrock and Kraftwerk) called Satan's Circus. It was released in Europe at the end of 2004 with no fanfare and it is coming out here later this month with even less.

No vocals, no personality, no musical warmth anywhere on this record - no problem. I have been warming up to Satan's Circus slowly. It felt more conceptual than compelling on first listens but, for me at least, it has gradually evolved into a keeper album. There are no obvious songs here, although I can see "Reigen" and "Head" to be methodical killers live (they put on an excellent live show with a full band).

A note on the song titles: possibly the worst ever on any album, unless you look at them as tongue in cheek, and then they they might be humorous. These include "Zugaga" (a reworking of Kraftwerk's "Trans Europe Express"), "Heil Xanax," and "Sons of Rother" (Michael Rother was a member of Kraftwerk and Neu!).

Fearless and Holmes work on Satan's Circus is ambitious and adventurous in one sense as it doesn't rely on big name guest appearances to sell the album. It is also ambitious as musically it is a departure from their other three albums. At the same time, it is very DIV: the requisite elements of dub and rich electronic production smoothly working within the rock band paradigm are there. I could see it being on my top 10 for this year, which their other albums have tended to find their way onto, and consistency like that is how Gwynn became a Baseball Hall of Fame lock.


At 11:19 AM, Blogger dave said...

What's interesting about Satan's Circus is that it's actually been available on the American version of iTunes since the end of last year.

I remember seeing it there, thinking it was odd, and just figured it was a compilation of B-sides/remixes or something because I had no idea that it was coming out (and apparently, neither did anybody). I think they need to fire their publicist.


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