Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Foetus - Vein

Listening to some of J.G. Thirlwell's material from the earlier part of the last twenty-five years, I'd felt I'd summarized the general Foetus sound by considering it the imagined result of Mike Patton covering Bauhaus, perhaps, a somewhat now-dated approach to dark industrialism that was inventive and may have loosely stemmed from gothic-sounding rock and post-punk. Thirlwell was unafraid to write bold, crude lyrics with intimidating stories and humor that matched the dark, heavy music his words complemented. His voice and music alike were a harsh, acquired taste that matched the red and black artwork of his records, and it wouldn't have been unusual to find, in his songs, any combination of grinding or dissonance, forceful sleaze, and sounds of feedback colliding into a great wall of noise.

And then, in 2005, he released LOVE on Birdman Records, a label where one would typically find a combination of blues and garage rock artists and consider Foetus somehow out of place. But this Foetus record, while unmistakably the dark work of Thirlwell, found him a composer who'd evolved with age, trading some of his prior harshness for an odd elegance. LOVE was a creative album, and characteristically a bold, intimidating event, but unlike the past works of his I'd heard, this record was grand. Thirlwell's singing voice was still a touch harsh for something that topped sounds of orchestral arrangements and harpsichord notes (and I suppose that's where part of the Mike Patton reference comes in), but his voice had toned down so that he sounded like less of a villain in his own stories. And these new songs were actually beautiful, best compared – if anything – to work that might play soundtrack to a Tim Burton movie. I, Jack the Pumpkin King, approved of this magical affair, which deserved to be played from a lit stage in front of a dark velvet curtain.

Two years later, it seems I'm not the only one who found LOVE impressive, because now we've got a release called VEIN, which Birdman insists is not a version of LOVE remixed but re-imagined. This is, for the most part, the case, though there is a TRZTN of Services remix of “Thrush,” which features the original guest vocal by Jennifer Charles and has taken up a heavy beat in typical remix form. The remix still contains the build-up of the original, but shortened by nearly two minutes and placing vocal track and heavy beat at its start, the exciting progression of the song has been lost. There's also a surprisingly fluid overture of LOVE called “L'overture” by Jay Wasco, which actually occurs fourth on the album, and a suspenseful remix of “How to Vibrate” by the aforementioned Mike Patton. The Jason Forrest remix of “Not Adam” has been redone to the point of sounding like a genuine Jason Forrest track, with an added mix that could bounce across walls, and the Matmos track “Not in Yr Hands” [originally “Not in Your Hands” and found on the (not adam) EP] finds dramatic flair mostly replaced with an experiment in percussion.

There is also a bonus video by Sam Sohlberg here of “Time Marches On.” On LOVE, the song was a real event where piano impatiently ticked, strings spiraled downward, and percussion marched forward. Thirwell excels at making music sound like its message, and on this particular track, where every sound pushed forward, this was apparent. Sohlberg's video for “Time Marches On,” however, doesn't match the music by any means, and where one might expect to see a short movie of dark whirlpools, forward movement, or hell, Gotham City, there is instead a video fit for an adult cartoon or iPod commercial, with (presumably) Thirlwell in animated form, lipsticked, track suited-up, singing his own song and doing movements that mimic a solo dance of sorts. The animation is decent in its own right but too colorful and too hip (in the Brooklyn hipster sense) to fit the music of Foetus. This slot on the record might have been better filled by the End remix of the song, previously featured on the (not adam) EP, so authentically re-imagined that it retained nothing but the original's melody.

The real gem of VEIN, not surprisingly, is a version of “Mon Agonie Douce” which has been remixed by Thirlwell himself and truly does appear re-imagined, as though Thirlwell had contemplated composing “Mon Agonie Douce” in a couple of different ways and used this remix album as a method of testing out his alternate choice. LOVE on the whole was a haunting record where each song was like a tall shadow that hovered above, and whereas the original version of “Mon Agonie Douce” was a waltz fit for a carnival, blanketed by harpsichord and French lyrics that transformed in tone from soothing to bitter, here the lyrics are entirely removed, and we have much more of a dark but stereotypically-French tone, set by immediate percussion, dissonant piano, accordion and harp. The new version is like that of a full orchestra covering the original, only this cover is partially set over a whispered wind of la-la-las and remains perfectly fit for the soundtrack to a Burton nightmare.

Foetus – VEIN trailer from Birdman
Right now, if you purchase VEIN straight from Birdman, you'll get the (not adam) EP for free!

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