Excepter's music is hard to classify. Certainly, it isn't noise, although it values oft-atonal motion over any sort of structure or melody. It isn't jazz, even if it is molded out of group improvisations based on a mood, thought or theme. It isn't pop or rock, but it seems to play by aesthetic rules closely associated with both. Excepter approximate all these things, with anything too "genre" having been washed away, as if identifying characteristics were nothing but stains upon the group's true nature.
Alternation, their new one, is a hall of mirrors, more like Excepter's first, Vacation/KA (2004), than the trio of mood improvisations most recently released. It is Excepter's lumbering body, lurching through the hall, shifting shapes suddenly, stumbling towards what turns out to be a brighter, more sexual, more-or-less simple nature. The sound (at first blush) seems more straightforward. Then more complex.
It's always been like this.
Over the past couple of years, Excepter released a series of recordings seemingly
touched by some sort of external logic. At best, it is confusing, almost inscrutable;
at worst, total bullshit. A logic that can never be taken apart and qualified
for mass consumption, it can (and should) only be understood on an individual
level. Self Destruction, Throne (both 2005) and Sunbomber (2006)
were mad, bubbling, dirge-dervish things, overflowing with musical invention,
whisper-drawn instruction, old-fashioned luck and a strange beauty. To listen
to Excepter is to be plunged into a collective mind which, with its mob
mentality, is a strange place, any personal motives having been mutated by collective
drive, a mystery to which only the listener can create the clues used to solve
it. It's exhausting, but thrilling and personal.
Alternation begins with a sort of familiarity: a synth-bass line oscillating for a few loops, a faux-cowbell shuddering, but then, something unexpected cohesion. What is this? "Ice Cream Van" is miraculously steady, with rhythmic and melodic elements essentially making sense, being actual rhythm and melody, not some Excepter-world approximation. The group sounds leaner, more purposeful. Was that an actual song? Did the singer just try to make some sort of chorus, at least some repetition in the vocals? Is this a good thing?
Before wandering too far into Alternation, one has to remember that this is a 60-minute album, whereas earlier releases were all half that. Anyone could tell you that 60-minute songs are boring. So, in order to make a full-length, Excepter were pretty much forced to work out a new strategy. Taken together, the opening third of Alternation works as a piece, with "Lypse6ix NM" dragging the listener back towards Excepter's more recognizable murky pit after "Ice Cream Van." "The 'Rock' Stepper" again
surprises, with cohesion and melody, some static yet shifting synths, a hard
beat, not-so-serious attempts at a refrain, and all sorts of interesting atmospheric
goings-on. "The Ladder," a short, quiet interlude, follows.
As the album progresses, different textures, drops in sound quality, contrasting
sources, bits of pop, bits of industrial (like "(The Pipes)," constructed completely
from banging on the plumbing in the recording studio's basement), stabs at actual
singing, elongated moans all things Excepter, and some things not, pass
by at variable levels of engagement. As "If I Were You" disintegrates into "Whirl
Whirl," the listener is hard pressed to recognize it as a new track and not just
a new section, but, I swear, whether it's brought on by purposeful obfuscation
or just boring passages (and in the mind-warp, it's hard to tell), there are
moments throughout the album that will shatter your expectations, moments of
actual shock, almost like being frightened. The final track, "'Back Me Up' (Show)," updates
mid-period Autechre for a more fractured world, as if the aforementioned glitch-techno
stars' machines have revolted against them, angered by their masters' touch,
then finally settle down to have some nice machine-sex. The moans and grunts
reach almost orgasmic heights of momentous interaction.
One gets to feeling that Excepter have revealed too much on Alternation. Where earlier recordings featured elements similar to each other, they also showed Excepter coming out with dramatically different results every time. Here, it seems that they may exhaust their ideas, that they actually are shooting their load rather than revealing just one facet of a larger, mysterious, secret whole. Or maybe, five- to 10-minute samplings of Excepter's mind-play just can't subvert your definitions of time and space as well as a 30-minute treatment.
This is a fine album, but one that must be held to a new set of standards. From album to album, Excepter have changed their sound; Alternation, by contrast, is confusing in that it changes the way Excepter present their sound. One can only hope that Excepter aim to confuse.