By Less Lee Moore
In fact, Turing machines are not intended to model computers, but rather they are intended to model computation itself . . .
—Wikipedia, “Turing Machine”
Perhaps there are those who, unfamiliar with minimalist, drone, or ambient music, may lobby the complaint that it doesn’t go anywhere. Nothing could be further from the truth. These styles of music can certainly take you places, but to paraphrase Dr. Crane in The Dark Knight, they might not be places you wanted to go. This is certainly true of Demdike Stare, who reside at the disturbing end of that particular spectrum. As Turing Machine’s new album What Is The Meaning Of What reveals however, these places may simply be the ones to which you didn’t expect to go. And the ride there is invigorating.
Opening track “Yeah, C’mon!” doesn’t have the traditional verse/bridge/chorus/verse set up but its forward movement is undeniable; relentless, in fact. The keyboards, drums, and guitar build until crazy guitar feedback bursts in around the two-minute mark, to be followed by what almost sounds like a guitar solo, but turned on its head, as again, there are no verses, bridges, or choruses. There are also no vocals at all, which allows the instruments to take center stage.
Possibly the best track on this 40-minute album is “Lazy Afternoon of the Jaguar” which begins with a long intro of slight, reverbed guitar until it introduces some amazing heavy bass and drum beats, which reflect so perfectly off the guitar you can hardly remember when they weren’t there. The subtle chord changes of the bass establish an intoxicating groove, while guitar feedback echoes in the distance, ever approaching closer and closer. It isn’t until about three minutes in that the bass and drums fall out and the whole thing becomes completely weightless for a few glorious seconds, in fact, the first “break” from repetition we’ve had in the album thus far. And then it all comes back. Now this is dance music.
The cleverly titled “Slave to the Algorithm” (click here to listen) switches it up a bit, with its robotic keyboards that feel like static. When the sinister guitar riff creeps in it packs a similar emotional impact as the Harmonica theme from Once Upon A Time In The West. The sonic textures in this track are incredible; occasional washes of icy synths, various bleeps and bloops, and and what sounds like acoustic guitar flourishes help the song reach a level that could not have been predicted from the first minute or so.
Perhaps the most unexpected track is “Sex Ghost,” which dispenses with the danceability factor entirely, sounding almost aquatic. These are not the surface ripples of Japan’s “The Experience of Swimming,” but deep currents and heretofore hidden life forms. My only complaint is that it’s just two minutes long; I’d love to hear this played out over five more minutes.
Title track “What Is The Meaning Of What” almost feels static by comparison to everything else. More guitar feedback and pulsing synths create a steady beat until buzzing insects and intermittent shrieking sounds make their way into the mix towards the end.
“If It’s Gone (It’s On)” feels a lot like Music For The Masses-era Depeche Mode for a long while. It’s exceptionally repetitive with almost no groove at all, until—Spoiler Alert!—there are vocals. Of course, they are somewhat distorted and unintelligible, reminiscent of Tones On Tail. The song gets heavier and better until it ends in a full minute of synth feedback fadeout.
The final track, “Bovina 2/23/08″ builds drumbeats into a frenetic crescendo which explodes into some wah wah guitar and then builds up and breaks down again, so smoothly that you don’t even realize it’s happening until it’s actually happening. The third build-up and breakdown takes longer, creating an almost painful tension before it explodes again. The heavy drums and guitar drop out and then song ends, with some brief studio banter, a clever touch reminding us that there are people behind this machine after all.
The pleasure of What Is The Meaning Of What is dampened somewhat by the knowledge that Turing Machine’s drummer Jerry Fuchs was killed in a shocking and tragic accident before the album was completed. In 2009, Fuchs tried to escape a stuck manual freight elevator by jumping across to the next floor, but a piece of his clothing got caught and he fell to his death. The two remaining band members—guitarist Justin Chearno and bassist Scott DeSimon—enlisted the help several other musicians to complete the album (including Disappears vocalist Brian Case; Andrew Raposo and Caito Sanchez of Midnight Magic; Abe Seiferth, DJ McNany, and Pat Mahoney of LCD Soundsystem).
What Is The Meaning Of What is out today from Temporary Residence and is available to order through their website.