Anti-Social Music play a certain kind of world-devouring heaviness that manages to pack all the brooding nihilism of punk rock into sprawling 20 + minute post-classical epics without ever so much as a power chord or statement of disaffection. The title of this album is probably the least ambiguous album title since Iggy Pop’s Raw Power or Big Black’s Songs About Fucking. The album indeed pairs the New York based classical music performer/composer collective with two orchestral collaborations with dälek and Warn Defever of His Name is Alive. Both groups are not necessarily known for composing orchestral anything. This is uncharted territory for both. Dälek (whose album Abandoned Language and Gutter Tactics are some of my favorite albums of all time) is renowned for crafting suffocating heavy noise-loops of industrial laden malcontent beneath MC Dälek’s dark observations of inner city life with a fluid stroke of stark lyricism and transcendent spirituality. His Name is Alive, the out-pop darlings of the mid-90’s who made an impressive come back in the early 2000’s are also venturing into new territory with their contribution to the free-jazz heavy B-Side of this record.
The fact that neither collaborators are distinguishable beyond the general mood of the track (the dälek side is considerably darker and the HNIA side is a bit lighter), make this especially intriguing. Any characteristics that set apart both collaborators apart from guiding the post-punk chamber orchestra from free jazz meditations to improvised squalor and lovingly deconstructed melodies are woven into the fabric of each piece instead of worn on its sleeve.
Dälek heads up Side A with his similarly on-the-nose song title “Music for Anti-Social Music”. The track moves from mournful sub-bass notes that may or may not be a bowed cello or blast of tug boat whistle as guitars are plugged into amps, strings strummed nervously before a lone viola cracks the sky with one of those electric, hair-on-end lines that drop into the middle of a track already pregnant with nervous energy. Dalek passes waves of electronic manipulation of feedback and distortion as a brooding, tremolo picked guitar circles like a hungry wolf, never breaking eye contact with a melody it is about pounce on and destroy. Around five minutes things start getting bat-shit crazy. Wails of suffering join the army of guitars pranging out waves of feedback-upon-feedback. Later, sharp stabs a woodwind and a piano create an uneasy respite. This segment is heavily reminiscent of any post-modern minimalist composer that it is too easy to name-drop in a record review. Steve Reich. There.
Things take a nosedive back into guitar and string heaviness when around the 15 minute mark a beautiful choral arrangement rises from lovely squalor and gives the track an emotional heft that never fails to leave goosebumps. Things end on a buzzing, messy high note as distortion feeds back on itself canceling itself into a surging, menacing groan that fades slowly back into the night.
While I enjoy Side A (as a rule the noisier the better) , the His Name is Alive’s collaboration is a much needed respite. A solo-saxophone runs through the entire piece calling to mind Chris Schlarb’s excellent 2010 release, Psychic Temple, where the acoustic guitar was joined by an open-door who’s-who of free jazz and other equally talented musicians (Mike Watt played bass. Just sayin’). The saxophone runs over the clang and clamor of a drunk janitor in a 7th grade band class room after school. A couple bangs on the timpani, playing with the chimes, knocking over the drawer of triangles. That is before, around minute 13 when the music takes wild mood swings into tightly orchestrated strings, to airy melodies plucked out on a piano while field recordings and that sax (damn that sax is wicked-good) punctuating the laid-backness of an improvised studio session.
These play-by-play reviews aren’t necessarily the most fun things to read and only cover a fraction of the brilliance captured on tape (there is so, so much more to write about). It is necessary because, both collaborators bury their singular musical proclivities deep inside the track and a serious amount of unpacking unearths their distinct personalities. But honestly, without the collaborations taking marquee space on the title, I would salivated over this just as much.
Oh, and buy this on vinyl. Please. Thing is absolutely nuts. Check it out.