Monday, May 26, 2008

The And/Ors - Will Self-Destruct - 2001

The first album from the And/Ors could be hailed as some sort of instant masterwork were it not for the instantly identifiable touchstones that were used to erect the band's sound. Will Self-Destruct is the sort of album that doesn't even attempt to conceal its inspirations, but for which those inspirations amount to little more than moot points (other than as references) in the face of such thrilling clatter. In fact, it is pretty much an instant masterwork anyway, regardless, a warped confiscation of pop that sonically goes straight for the jugular vein and nary lets go for the length of its running time. As on the Pavement-style squalor of "Terror Eyes," the music is self-consciously messy at times. Like Slanted & Enchanted it is a first album where even the intentionally jarring disorder cannot obscure the catchy tunes and, in fact, accentuates how fine they are. The guitars bleat like warning sirens or chime like loose coins, while the rhythm tracks splinter off in every punky direction, but never in a way that works against Daniel Black's ragged, anthemic songcraft. And like Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain or Wowee Zowee, it has an eclectic array of sources that emerge from the white noise. The stiff and angular riffs of "Candy Takes the Cake" take new wave into the new millennium. "The Slider" is a hybrid ambient landscape that references Spiritualized's hazy space rock and My Bloody Valentine's melodic wall of noise. The gentle respite "At the Saturn Bar," a strummed acoustic ballad that sounds as if Captain Beefheart produced a Neil Young session, borders on fried, zoned-out country-rock. The other guiding voice for the band, though, is Guided By Voices. "As We Play the Tape Tricks Us" is straight out of the Robert Pollard sub-minute songbook, while cracked fantastical narratives like "The Black Diamond Prince," "Regarding Mr. Right," and "Neo-Disney® Hype-Trip," and the goofy lo-fi "Rockets" are very much Pollard-esque in their manner — loose and whimsical but with an undertone of austerity, and a legitimate desire to fold all of pop's past into brief alternate universes of splintered melody. Regardless of references, though, Black's songwriting never falters over the course of the album, and he has a unique way with off the beaten path hooks. For instance, if feedback-laden punk had replaced the disco element in Grease, one of the movie's songs might have sounded something like "Flexiclocks," with Black and bassist Arabella Harrison tussling aggressively but bewitchingly around each other as if they were John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John on amphetamines. It is a sensational album that might have been called visionary had it arrived six or eight years earlier. But even if a fraction of its beauty is reflected from the indie pop leading lights of the previous half decade or so, Will Self-Destruct builds up plenty of its own steam. It is not revolutionary music, at least not for 2001, but it is inventive, exhilarating, and entirely enthralling, and it promises much. -AMG

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