60 Second Wipeout

Friday, May 25, 2001

I've had this album for about 2 months - in that time, I've passed it by for other music in my collection, both new and old. The album itself has moved from one CD shelf (on this rickety, cheap "adjustable shelf" monstrosity) to another (on this not-so-cheap, rotating CD carousel); from one side of my room to another; from one end of the state in a neglected bin to the conspicuous confines of my hefty collection. But in all this movement, the booklet hasn't been removed, the CD hasn't been taken from the case, and the price tag wasn't even removed. Whatever reason there might be to blame for this, it certainly wasn't for lack of interest - were that the case, I wouldn't have bothered dropping the cash to pick this up. Maybe the CD thinks that was the case, though, for when I finally played it, it seemed to hold a serious grudge against me.

Atari Teenage Riot are the originators, innovators, and creators of Digital Hardcore (the music, and the record label). For a description of their sound, look no further than the name - just replace the usual guitar-drums backing of regular hardcore punk with samplers, drum machines, and other studio machinery, and there you are. Same screaming, same anger, and (in some ways) the same rhetoric. It some ways, this digital hardcore sounds weaker - drum machines, no matter how many BPMs they're doing, will never sound as fierce as actual drums. However, using machines does have its advantages - hearing the nonstop onslaught of the first two tracks give way to an actual string backing in "Western Decay" is more jarring & disruptive than any actual pedal-to the-floor bleeeeaaaarrrggghhh!! could be.

Alec Empire (the DHR / ATR mastermind) certainly knows what he's doing behind the boards - the backings created by him and co-ATRer Nic Endo are interesting enough, creating soundscapes from spastic Rolands and other obnoxious squeals. However, these backdrops fail to keep the pro-forma hardcore motifs (the screaming, the drums, the screaming) from getting stale. Ironically, the track on this album that shares the name of Alec's empire ("Digital Hardcore") turns out to be a complete mess, bouncing from staccato drumming to random voices to other discordant choices, with each section well outlasting its welcome. It's no surprise to me, though, given what the album revealed itself to be.

No, I wasn't a big fan of the vocals (which seemed to be approximating the CAPITAL LETTERS and exclamation points spread throughout the lyrics in the liner notes). And, no, I really couldn't tell what they were all so angry about (since the lyrics I could make out were of the generic / universal angry-at-the-man variety). However, I wanted to give this a shot. While the group's energy and creativity carried me through the first few songs, I soon slid into a bored slump. Upon further though, I decided to appreciate it the same way that I've learned to appreciate Big Black - for the "rock", both musically and vocally. However, even Big Black knew enough to take the piss out of their ridiculously aggressive stance. Maybe ATR was going for that affect by name-checking their group like a bunch of would-be hip-hop homies bling-blingin' the jigga wha. That made me chuckle, but I don't think that was the desired effect.

Somewhere around "Ghostchase", my cool-noise appreciation shield dropped, and I soon hit the same rut that I hit whenever I listen to most regular hardcore. After hearing someone scream at the same volume for so long, while doing it against a backdrop that, however elaborate & ornate, ends up de-evolving into the same 1-2-3-4 gabba-gabby-hey drum schtick, I could care less if they're reading Penthouse Letters, Kurt Cobain's real suicide note or the Meaning of Life. Even when I recognized Kathleen Hanna's voice on "No Success", it didn't matter. And I'll be damned if I could pick out anything on "Anarchy 999", since I was reaching the end of my rope with this silliness. Instead of relaxing and coasting to an easy ending, I treated these final 4+ minutes as a grueling test of mettle & patience, just to see if I could keep my finger from smacking the Stop button on the CD player like a caffeine freak let loose on a Whack-A-Mole machine.

This doesn't mean that I won't listen to this disc again. I can still appreciate the sound of it all, and maybe, in different circumstance, I'll find some other things inside this disc that will change my opinion. Maybe I misplaced my misplaced anger, and just don't get it anymore, or perhaps my keen sense of irony keeps me from appreciating something this unwavering & guileless. Regardless of this, though, I think the next time I'm in the mood for noise that annoys, I'll settle for the sound of dripping faucets & running toilets.

Reviewed by David Raposa
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