Friday, October 20, 2006

Techno Animal's 'Re-entry' (1995): The Best Album of the 1990s?

There are albums that impact the fabric of popular music in a way that is lasting, and this was one of them. Nobody ever caught on to JK Flesh's (Justin Broadrick of Napalm Death, Godflesh & Jesu) and KMart's (Kevin Martin, GOD, ICE) albums, and they were missing-out. After hearing their first CD, "Ghosts" (1991), I was terrified!

There are no words for the sonic assault they had on that album, it was very sample-based, and very industrial-sounding (like Throbbing Gristle or Faust). Re-entry has the same feeling that "Bitches Brew" gave me on that first listen--there was a newness that felt like they were looking into the future, and it was exciting. There is a strange trippy utopianism to the electric period of Miles, but Re-entry is dystopian and menacing. Yet, there are aspects of Techno Animal's oeuvre that can even sound elegiac and dreamy, a kind of "flowers in the ruins" quality that's beggars description. Most of the material was done with samplers and computers and is best described as electro-acoustic studio compositions with some live elements thrown-in.

Most of Re-entry has a kind of "noirish"quality that would fit well into the world of Blade Runner. Broadrick and Martin's music has a strange way of making the end of everything seem beautiful and poetic, like the writings of Thomas Pynchon.
For this reason, it is very spiritual in an existentialist sense, a kind of musical raging against the abyss that I enjoy. Re-entry has some excellent hip-hop beats and electronics over an ambient soundscape, but you could imagine this stuff blaring over the destruction of Baghdad too. It has the quality of music one would imagine the imperial courts of the Mandarins or the Rajahs had. It's very psychedelic--like a fever dream--a haze of intoxication, often conveying a sense of the pastoral and the arboreal. Some tracks miss-the-mark, but it's an amazing 2+ hours for trainspotters and music addicts. You don't need drugs here, this music is drugs. But if you ever really want to scare-the-shit out of rap fans who play their bass too loud on their rigs, play this very-very loudly around them. The white-noise and subharmonic-frequencies alone will force them leave its proximity.

In the spirit of fairness, I have to mention the other CD of 1995 that is its coequal--Scorn's "Gyral" (Mick Harris, formerly of Napalm Death), an artist who definitely influenced the creation of Re-entry. If I was to describe the Scorn of the mid-1990s, it would be a dub sound with hip-hop beats and sampled-textures (often ambient), and very dark, even Apocalyptic. That's the kind of music that seems to emanate from Birmingham, England. But Re-entry has the same approach to that electric-period Miles, and even a few players who worked with him during that the 1960s-70s. Complimenting this is the legendary Jon Hassell who created his own "4th world music" (a hybrid of electronics, free-jazz, serialism, minimalism, and more). Hassell came out of the "no wave" scene of the 1980s along with Bill Laswell and others.

It's funny how I finally got a copy of Re-entry: it came by-way of Mick Harris himself in 1999. We were trading music through the mails at the time, and Reentry was part of a trade. You couldn't find this album at the time, it just vanished in the US after 1995 just barely making its release through Caroline. Yes, Justin had given the CD to him through the mails--that's how difficult it was for me to find it. Two former members of Napalm Death owned it. I'll never sell it, never!
I assume it did much better in Europe, but it wasn't a big commercial success. Again, Virgin records didn't even bother releasing it widely in America even though it was part of an ambient series that included Brian Eno, Hassell, the Orb, and many others. The Wire magazine listed Re-entry in their Top 50 albums of 1995, but musical tastes are more educated and eclectic in the UK than they are here in the US. The UK edition to the Soundtrack to "The Acid House" (an Irvine Welsh story, the author of Trainspotters) has a Techno Animal cut, while the US edition omitted it altogether! That says it all, doesn't it? Artists like Broadrick and Martin are anathema to an industry that has tried to compartmentalize music into genres, and the public also prefers this. With the advent of the Internet, it just seems inevitable that the genres will break down eventually since they're ultimately artificial, and when the original commercial and emotional reasons for them no longer exist, they'll be gone.

The invention of genres and the cult of personality have held music back for a very long time. Music itself has to be organic and ever-changing for it to survive, like life itself, its source. Music cannot stop moving, or it has already died. Like art hanging in a gallery, it has lost its edge and its dangerousness and has been tamed. Something old, something new...I want to hear Jon Hassell cutting-loose over an ambient beatscape with his trumpet some more!
These guys are innovators, and they therefore defy categorization which is problematic to lazy music journalists and mainstream labels (the ones that have survived!). Techno Animal folded in early 2004 after a number of failed-attempts at capturing some kind of access to the mainstream, the most notable being their hybrid rap opus "Brotherhood of the Bomb"(Matador records, 2001), which featured heavily mutated hip-hop tracks with seasoned underground MCs. The results weren't that great and neither was the reaction.

Some cuts work, but most of it just didn't click with most rap fans and the North American tour had a very mixed-response. Ironically, the tracks that worked best were instrumentals. Yet, you have to have people like them to achieve any innovations and the music industry knows this very well. Without some form of forward movement, people begin to lose interest (too late!). With no cutting-edge artists being put out there, they start downloading Eminem and copying it to a CDr or an iPod. Or, they finally break down and start making it themselves.

Before you download that album or track, just be sure to pay artists like Justin & Kevin, they've earned that right.
At least they're experiencing some success of late--Justin with Jesu and Martin with The Bug (HARD dancehall techno). Someone has to write the soundtrack to the Apocalypse. If not them, why not YOU?

Revised, 08.01.2009