Click here to [close]

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Arto Lindsay – Encyclopedia of Arto (Northern Spy, 2014) ***

By Julian Eidenberger

To fans of experimental music, Arto Linday is something of a household name; as guitarist of the band DNA, he introduced fiercely abstract guitar noise into a punk rock context and became one of the central figures of New York’s short-lived no wave (anti-)movement. Starting in the mid-80’ies, however, Lindsay began to expand his approach beyond the willfully primitive Dadaist-rock of said trio. Increasingly, Lindsay explored the sounds and styles he’d been exposed to during a childhood spent (mainly) in Brazil – samba, bossa nova, tropicalia –, and ultimately, he even gained the opportunity to produce records by luminaries such as Caetano Veloso. This means that all those who – like me – primarily associate Lindsay with guitar “skronk”, (and maybe with John Zorn-collaborations) will be in for a bit of a surprise here, since the first volume of this sprawling double-disc set compiles tracks that are committed to light, electronics-augmented pop music with a distinctly Brazilian flavor.

Taken from various solo albums of Lindsay’s, these songs feature contributions by an impressive cast of guest musicians, including Brian Eno, Melvin Gibbs and Ryuichi Sakamoto, to name just the most well-known. Musically, two tracks sung in Portuguese immediately stand out: Propelled by samba-derived rhythms, and embellished with infectious melodies generated by guitar and/or electronics, Personagem and Combustivel won’t leave the listener’s head anytime soon. On the ten remaining tracks, however, Lindsay walks the fine line between “airy” and “bland”; in fact, the success of these calmer songs often depends on the guest contributions. Invoke, for instance, benefits greatly from a whining violin backing Lindsay; and in Ondina, Lindsay’s singing is underpinned by richly layered drums and percussion, while a relaxed horn melody provides counterpoint. However, in the absence of strong instrumental support, the music on this first volume can get uncomfortably close to blandness, since Lindsay’s singing voice, while not altogether unpleasant, lacks the expressiveness needed to carry a song by itself (Illuminated or Reentry).

The compilation’s second volume is radically different from the first one and brings back some of the unhinged guitar noise of Lindsay’s early musical career. Recorded, at least in part, live at Berlin’s legendary Berghain, it sees the unaccompanied Lindsay approaching twelve songs with voice and amplified guitar only. Song-wise, there’s actually very little overlap with the first disc, and the tracks that do reappear are altered significantly by this stripped-down and more aggressive approach – you would hardly recognize them if it weren’t for the titles. A rather bizarre highlight on the second disc is Lindsay’s deconstructive take on the Prince tune Erotic City; here, what little eroticism might have survived the beat-less and overall phlegmatic delivery is sabotaged by erratic bursts of guitar noise. Another standout would be O Mais Belo dos Belos, in which Lindsay dabbles in abstract feedback explorations reminiscent of Fred Frith.

Overall, this double-disc is, for me at least, a bit of a “mixed bag”; for every gem, there’s another track that seems hardly essential. In part, this may be due to the encyclopedic pretence of the whole enterprise and its lengthy run time of about ninety minutes; as such, it’s quite meritorious, and I don’t want to preclude the possibility that less biased listeners might be more appreciative of it than I am.