September 2, 2004

Test Spin: The Residents

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The Residents, masters of perverse and proggish irony for about three decades now, may now have released their most perverse album yet. Here’s the plot so far: The Residents, fans of Captain Beefheart, John Cage, and Elvis Presley, send their demo tape to Geffen in 1971. The ensuing bootleg becomes an underground staple with its whipping metallic lesions and post-colonial, tribal (non-)rhythms. If it is not the least musical album ever recorded (both formally and colloquially), it is certainly at the same fever pitch as Beefheart, Sun City Girls, or Einsturzende Neubauten.

Now, the band has remixed that original tape out of sight and mind as an experimental disco album that quite seriously sounds like Dylan vomiting razor blades in Studio 54. Is it a deft satire of the music industry’s insatiable urge to commodify and codify creativity? Is it actually just another band selling out to make a quick dollar with a quirky dance album? Is it just actually good music, as worthwhile as the best of Ze Records of No-Wave?

The album moves too briskly and psychotically to allow any time for this contemplation, however. Snatches of the Beatles, the national anthem, hip-hop, and static get filtered through mounds of hi-hat, and it’s virtually impossible to determine whether the music is from the original recording or from the remix.

This is apparently the first of a series of remixes that also includes The King & I, an industrial-metal meditation on most of Elvis’s hits. While it’s certainly not the most productive area the group could be exploring, it’s valuable as a dissection of their own legacy, both a self-annihilation and a self-veneration. Which also means it has its healthy share of cheesy trance effects. But with a band this indecipherable and difficult, it’s hard to tell if it’s an appeal to the mainstream or the exact opposite.

Four Stars

Archived article by Alex Linhardt
Red Letter Daze Editor