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the pathetic caverns - music by artist - Death in Vegas

eclectic reviews and opinions

Death in Vegas

Death in Vegas

(The Lab, 2005)

I feel like I should state my biases upfront, because this isn't the sort of music I usually listen to. I'm mostly a rock guy, and I have a short attention span. Boards of Canada's goegaddi is my favorite electronica record, partly because most of the songs are so short that I don't get bored with them before they end. Most long, trancey things I actually like use human drummers, like Neu! or Stereolab.

Satan's Circus is a double album: half new studio recordings and half a live set (mostly drawn from 2003's Scorpio Rising). It's a slight departure for Death in Vegas — previous releases have leaned on guest singers to provide hooks, but although Susan Dulane is credited with vocals on "Hail Xanax," the only non-instrumental, her contribution is processed beyond the point of being recognizable among the synth washes. Members of the touring band also appear on several of the tracks.

The arrangements on the studio disc all follow the same basic template: the track starts with a loop, and other parts are gradually added or subtracted, making the mix more or less dense. This allows for variation in dynamics, texture, and mood, but there's no variation in tempo or key movement within a track. The compositions also don't tend to have discrete boundaries between identifiable sections (like verses or choruses). I found it a bit like the musical equivalent of a lava lamp — it can be pretty to look at, but the longer you stare, the less interesting it gets. And it never does anything really surprising. That's where my attention span becomes a factor: many of the tracks seem to go on too long for the number of musical ideas they explore. I enjoyed Satan's Circus most when I wasn't paying close attention to it. I definitely would have found it easier listening if fewer songs broke the 5-minute mark.

The best tracks — like "Sons of Rother," which picks up substantial energy from the presence of drummer Simon Hanson — do remind me of Neu!, Stereolab, or early Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark. But it's faint praise to say that the highlights of Satan's Circus evoke albums thirty years old.

The live disc is more to my liking; the presence of live musicians throughout gives it a more consistently "rock" vibe. Guest vocalists from the albums reappear in tape-loop format. If I were in the audience, that would probably give me the Milli Vanilli creeps, raising the question of just how much of the performance is canned. But on disc, it's not as distracting, and having a vocal hook does help individualize the songs. The recording isn't technically great — you can certainly hear the songs, but there's some midrange murk. Ironically, the sonic muddiness gives the songs more personality and makes the whole disc more cohesive.

This review originally appeared at Avoid Peril.

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