Tuesday, March 11, 2008

THE YOUNG GODS, The Young Gods (Product Inc)
Melody Maker, 1987

by Simon Reynolds

One of the little myths about Pop 1987 is that "there's nothing happening, is there?" For me, 1987 has consisted of a deluge of brilliance which I've been barely able to take in, let alone digest. Outstanding releases by Butthole Surfers, Skinny Puppy, LL Cool J, Arthur Russell, Throwing Muses, Public Enemy, Happy Mondays… I'm only scratching the surface here… and sure, none of it ever hits, but I thought we'd washed those old notions of infiltrate-and-subvert out of our blood long ago.

For those who are interested in being interested, 1987 offers an improbably surfeit and diversity of options. The Young Gods are right at the front, with what looks like the most creative record released this year.

They call their music New Sonic Architecture, and it involves taking sampling beyond the dance functionalism which limits hip hop. Where most pop is linear, horizontal, The Young Gods open up space along the vertical--trapdoors open up between the beat; suddenly, the ceiling rises vertiginously; corridors branch out, down which sounds recede and loom. If this is architecture, then it's designed in the spirit of Escher--trompe l'oeil effects, nightmare perspectives, echo and shadow.

Even more disorientating is that the substances out which this architecture is constructed are unfamiliar, rendered unrecognizable and alien by the drastic sampling process. You can't play the cosy reference game because a lot of the material is stolen from classical music--strings on "Fais La Mouette" that churn nauseously like a trapped moth; on "Percussione", abrupt flares and blares of sound that come at you like an ambush.

On "Jusqu'au Bout", it sounds like an orchestra has been transformed into the sort of jackhammer powerchord riffing you'd find on the plastic punk the Pistols made after Rotten left. Indeed, it's important to make the point that a lot of the music on this record is fantastic rock music, even if made entirely on machines. "Jimmy" is furious punk, "Fais La Mouette" is a brutal stomp that reminds me of the genuine menace and savagery that lay beneath the camp surface of Glitter and The Sweet.

Franz Treichler's voice is a haemorrhage, at times a plane of abraided texture the even-ness of which surpasses even Luc Van Acker. But he can also sound sonorous, as on the beautiful, low shudder of melody on "Jusqu'au Bout". It's the voice of a singer who knows that where he wants to be is not the human at all.

There's too much being proposed and shaken up here for me to absorb in a handful of listens, so I'll just say that The Young Gods know what time it is. Their music is where Mantronix meets Diamanda Galas, Skinny Boys meets Stockhausen. Stop whinging and immerse yourself in this record.

The future starts here.

Melody Maker, 1995

by Simon Reynolds

Believe it or not, kids, but there was a time when Britain was not the epicentre of the pop universe, when hipsters looked to America, New Zealand, Belgium, Canada, anywhere but Blighty. Christ, even Switzerland was more happenin' than a Little England plagued by indie voles, simply 'cos Zurich had somehow spawned untouchable Futurist power trio The Young Gods. Oh, we garlanded ye Gods with our most deliriously imagistic praise, but, oh! their self-titled debut (MM's Album of 1987) and 1989 sequel L'Eau Rouge warranted such histrionics a thousandfold. I, for one, would not retract a single spume-flecked metaphor.

If it weren't such a corny, used-up term, 'cyberpunk' would be perfect for The Young Gods, 'cos that's literally what they are: The Stooges rewired for the digital aeon, the ultimate cyborg mesh of the visceral (Franz Treichler's pagan soul, drummer Use's tribal thunder) and the machinic (metal riffs and classical fanfares vivisected and recombined via the sampler). Amazingly, shamefully, nearly a decade after Mantronix, Def Jam and acid house, the Young Gods have
yet to be dethroned as exponents non pareil of sampladelic rock. That's
not to say that no rock bands have got to grips with digital technology. But whereas post-rock units like Disco Inferno or Main use guitars in non-rockin' ways, The Young Gods do almost the opposite: sans guitars, they create the ultimate rockist sturm und drang, a pyrotechnic yet plectrum-free fantasia for fretboard-freaks.

After 1992's TV Sky, the Gods' first tentative, toned-down
bid for crossover (Treichler abandoned his mother tongue French for fluent American),
Only Heaven is at once a return to form and a concerted lunge for the mainstream's jugular (in the US, the band's finally plighted its troth
to major label Interscope). Three years on, the Gods could have gone in at least three directions--thrash-metal, industrial (shudder!) or techno. The latter would probably have been the most fertile (given the aesthetic affinities between the Gods' streamlined furore and Beltram tracks like "Energy Flash" and "Mentasm", or indeed the last Prodigy LP), but the only gesture Treichler & Co have made in techno's direction is an increased quotient of ambience: middle-eights like reeling and whirling firmaments, tactile texture-swirls, etc. Generally, they continue to plough their own lonely furrow, keeping both thrash's feckless palsy and
industrial's blethering bombast at arm's length, while simultaneously shunning
the dancefloor (moshing and the dubiously upraised fist are still the only appropriate physical responses to the Gods).

That said, "Speed Of Night", the album's highpoint, does sound like Motorhead remixed by Richie 'Plastikman' Hawtin; sheer kinesthetic thrills, as
electrifying as mainlining a cocktail of adrenalin, steroids and crystal meth. Another triumph is the 17 minute song-cycle "Moon Revolutions", which comprises
the speed-blur and mercurial vapour-trails of "the eagle song" (featuring a solo that could be from Ted Nugent's "Stranglehold"), the ambient hinterland
of "the dreamscape" (a sort of cyberdelic take on the mid-section of Zep's "Whole Lotta Love", spun from reprocessed feedback), and the tribal tempest of "the arrow song".

Only Heaven is not all full-throttle kineticism; "Donnez les Esprits"
and "The Dreamhouse' both stalk and glower at an ominous, predatory mid-tempo,
and proceedings close with a ballad, "Child In The Tree", Franz's lush croon framed by what sounds like real acoustic strumming (Treichler was conservatory-trained
in classical guitar). But mostly Only Heaven is about speed, ascension,
exultation, "Kissing the Sun", crashing the Pearly Gates. So c'mon, feel the rush.

Spin, 1995

by Simon Reynolds

Sampler-wielding cyber-Stooges, The Young Gods have been the world's first 21st Century rock band for nearly a decade now. But being ahead of your time can be lonesome, since you have to wait for everybody else to catch up. Despite cult status in Europe and especially England (where they've influenced everyone from art-metal units like Godflesh to post-rockers like Disco Inferno), this Swiss power trio has made few inroads into American alt-rock consciousness. Mike Patton of Faith No More wore the Gods' spiral T-shirt in so many photo-shoots he became a walking billboard; agit-pop guerrillas Cop Shoot Cop copped a few of their sampler-rock licks. But that's about it. All this may be about to change, though. At last, the Young Gods have hitched up with a US major (Interscope, home of Cop Shoot Cop). And Only Heaven is at once a return to late '80s form and perhaps their most accessible album to date. Either way, it's a distinct improvement on their first, tentative attempt to parler fluent American, 1992's TV Sky.

Despite slight affinities with thrash (velocity, density, hygiene), despite the mistaken pigeonholing of the band as 'industrial', the Young Gods are really just about the closest thing to a 'pure rock' band you can get in the age of market fragmentation. 'Pure', in so far as they transcend genre and instead home/hone in on the primal matrix of rock'n'roll energies that connect the Stooges, Sex Pistols, Radio Birdman, Birthday Party, Killing Joke and Metallica. And 'pure' in terms of their methodology, whereby they literally distil rock's essence. Using the sampler to vivisect punk and metal songs for paroxysmic riffs, climactic powerchords, feedback detonations etc, the Gods recombine and resequence them into a monstrous uber-rock. As with Futurist art, rock's bloody physicality is sublimated into an elemental passion-play of abstract dynamic forces.

So "Speed Of Night" is Motorhead cleansed of greaser grit and biker stink, a silvered machine hurtling into a radiant nowhere, while "Kissing The Sun" is a Hendrix-meets-Icarus hymn to ascension and dazzlement. The extended highpoint of "Only Heaven" is "Moon Revolutions", a 17 minute triptych that runs from the after-image-trailing rush of "the eagle song" through "the dreamscape"'s vaporous canyon of ambience to the neo-pagan thunder of "the arrow song".

As ever, singer/bandleader Franz Treichler's delivery is tres Jim Morrison,
and his lyrics a reeling mind's eye panorama of Nietzchean imagery: glacial altitudes, rarified remoteness, vast solitudes, inclement realms where
only the gigantic of spirit roam. If Nietzche's 1872 opus The Birth Of Tragedy was, as some claim, the first rock critical text, then Only Heaven is Friedrich's theory fleshed, or flashed, out. "Count the stars... that's what/we are/fighting for": the Young God are militant mystics, hungry to be consumed in the blaze of glory. The Gods' penchant for grandeur may still prove too much for Sebadoh-fans to stomach, but anyone who digs Led Zep IV, Electric Ladyland or Ritual de Lo Habitual, should get ready to swoon.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

These YG reviews are a perfect example of the type of MM hype that caused me to buy so many useless albums back in the late 80s and early 90s...Curve, anyone?

However, justified in the case of the mighty Young Gods, who I discovered by reading this very review. A nice trip down memory lane.