Tuesday, March 20, 2007

The Eternals - Heavy International

Last month, Eternals bassist Wayne Montana noted his indifference to current music while interviewing with Gapers Block. Rhetorically asking “how many more people are going to come out with a disco-punk beat?” he declared that bands are adamant about expressing themselves but come out expressing “something they’ve heard in 25 other bands.”

Montana’s no hypocrite, either; the Eternals sound as though they’ve pulled handfuls of influence from every possible location and no specific place at once. Once deeming their sound “rawar style,” they melt dub, electronic and synth pop into a pile of sound that can’t fully be compared to the work of anyone else (receiving adequate press). The group came into its own after the breakup of Trenchmouth (of which SNL's Fred Armisen was also a member), and taking up keyboards when original guitarist/former Trenchmouth band mate Chris De Zutter left the band to pursue school, the Eternals opted to experiment with an instrument fairly foreign to them, rather than replacing the lost guitarist.

Also getting word around is front man Damon Locks, who told the
Chicago Reader that it’s “hard to avoid being political” these days, though he also said he doesn’t “want to be sloganeering because if you give someone the answer, there’s nothing to think about anymore.” So the focus on third studio album Heavy International barely grazes social conflicts and remains largely on musical individuality, and for every two minutes of “Feed the Youth (Stage a Coup),” which doesn't state much beyond the initial message, there are six minutes of “Remove Ya,” a mess that experiments with sound effects over a Phantom of the Opera-style organ effect, embracing a bit too much of that unconventionality for which the band so aims. The big problem with the band’s relationships to non-conformity and instrumental experimentation is that you’re reminded of the pros and cons of dub as a genre, not to mention overloaded with everything added to keep Heavy International from being strictly labeled dub.

“Crime” is indulgent at nearly eight minutes, though lines like “Crime is contortion that is out of proportion and so cruel…” are clever when you’re, you know, in the mood for cleverness, and the steady drum rolls that keep it flowing are enough to set a rhythmic trance if you’re, again, in the mood. This isn’t going to be anyone’s trusty default record, and the fact is apparent regardless of which song you slip into. Opener “The Mix is So Bizarre” throws a brass riff with a wailing chorus of aye-aye-ayes, following a strangely merry “Lo-lo-lo-lo-lo-lookout” that Locks doesn’t deliver with any sort of key in mind. Likewise, tracks like “Patch of Blue” transform Locks’ voice into a nasal harmony much in the way that Doseone harmonizes with his own falsetto. As for the percussion that gives this group their signature sound (on Heavy International, anyway, seeing as they don’t really want a signature sound), the Eternals will cite early reggae/dub artists like Lee “Scratch” Perry as an influence, but the drumming on songs like “Beware the Swordbat” and the album’s title track is too generously executed and obviously rock-oriented to fit in with 60s reggae as much as, say, the roughness with which the Clash covered “Armagideon Time.” Not that there should be any appropriate comparison, though, because there truly isn’t. And the Eternals probably like it that way.

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