Bablicon – A Flat Inside a Fog: The Cat That Was a Dog

Bablicon
A Flat Inside a Fog: The Cat That Was a Dog

Counting myself among the crowd that casts a wary glance on the growing masses of post-rockers, as much for their artistic pretentiousness as for their frequently atonal songcraft, I’ve made a concerted effort to approach the music solely on the strength of the ideas presented. After all, this is one genre where the quality of the concept seems to take preeminence over the actual musical product, and that’s always been a somewhat troubling proposition. On the conceptual level, almost any sort of sonic nonsense can be perpetrated on the unknowing listener in the name of “artistic merit.” To me, Lou Reed’s Metal Machine Music is the ultimate example of concept triumphing over content, raining sheets of distorted guitar mess over two CDs worth of non-music. It looks like a bold artistic move on paper, but on vinyl (or plastic) it mostly sounds like orderless noise. Similarly, for some of us, John Cage’s books on music theory are probably considerably more interesting than the majority of his recordings. And while Bablicon are no strangers to noise in its various forms, there is an order in their music that, when coupled with an admirable adventurousness, makes for a compelling listen that escapes the great majority of the post-rock posers.

Their third album, five years in the making and originally conceived as a two-disc epic, Bablicon deliver on 65 minutes of experimental revelry that visits elements of improvisational jazz, contemporary classical music, and heady experimental progressive rock. And for the most part, it’s wonderful. Having had their debut release dubbed “the worst record ever made” by Melody Maker, it’s now hard to imagine what could have inspired such vitriol while listening to the complex cycle of discordant piano strikes, jazzy drumming, shrieking clarinets, and thumping bass lines. Formerly gaining their reputation as an improvisational live band, we’re told that this effort was “meticulously crafted beforehand,” as opposed to just jamming while the tapes ran. If that implies that a plan existed, which is not exactly apparent given the entirely unpredictable structures, that plan called for a wonderfully cosmopolitan approach.

Often though, describing these songs requires a little thinking outside of the box. For example, “Travelling” brings to mind a Klezmer band sneaking into the background of a silent movie, with clarinet almost comically mimicking the piano flourishes while breaking through the tense cinematic drama. Further, “Arcdurvish” evokes the sounds of a spaceship jazz band chasing down a flock of geese. Vaguely Eastern melodies pop up more than a few times, with some stereotypical “snake charmer” melodies crawling around the Frank Zappa-ish noise freakout in “Pigeon of Doom,” adding a distinctively sinister quality akin to the Monks jamming with Captain Beefheart. Most times, you’d never believe that only three men are responsible for nearly all the sounds being produced.

While many tracks have a definite cinematic feel, there seems to be at least a passing similarity to some of the more adventurous 60’s acid rock, with fuzzed out organs, marching drum rolls, and snaking bass lines cooing over rattling toys and a pair of theremins wheezing like tea pots in “Mary.” Of course, as would be expected, there are a number of moments comprised of melodic (or unmelodic) themes that overstay their welcome in these extended renditions, though these moments have the strange effect of helping to drawing in the listener.

As much as Lou Reed admired the musical aesthetic of Ornette Coleman, it was his avant garde work with the Velvet Underground that will be remembered long after Metal Machine Music is considered merely a relentlessly self-indulgent relic. Maybe the main reason that project is seen by most as an artistic failure is because it stopped being interesting about five minutes into the walls of guitar fuzz. You knew what was coming next, more guitar fuzz. Bablicon, like Coleman, never allow the listener to take their next step for granted, demanding your full attention as they dive and swerve and search for places you haven’t visited before. No matter how far they wander out into the periphery, there is usually a hook or melody that pulls you back in before you drift off beyond the point of returning (or caring). In the process they prove that if you want concepts, buy a philosophy book. If you want music, consider buying their album.