The music of Excepter is one of the pricklier propositions of the Brooklyn noise scene, offering no easy foothold for those attempting to tune into their nebulous wavelength. Their longform, improvised jams are not rooted in post-punk or psych-pop like those of their neighbors Black Dice and Animal Collective. Unlike Gang Gang Dance, they do not tend towards deconstructions of worldbeat, nor do they engage with the minimalist drone traditions that inform the work of Growing. And although their instrumental palette is almost exclusively electronic, they are not particularly indebted to the history of techno or dance. Instead, Excepter have carved a path uniquely their own, bearing more in common with leader John Fell Ryan’s previous band — the amorphous free-folk collective No Neck Blues Band — than with any of the bands with which they are often grouped. For the past seven years, Excepter have been ritualistically refining their own brand of shambolic, drug-damaged, future-shock folk, balancing tense, psychedelic profundity with a lackadaisical disaffection bordering on camp.
Although it’s a good bet that most of Excepter’s albums have been culled and edited down from live performances and live-in-studio improvisations, Presidence is the first release officially carrying the signifier of “live album.” This is perhaps long overdue for a group renowned for their marathon live sets, though Ryan and co. have made plenty of raw, unedited live material available via their podcast for several years now. The podcast recently reached its 67th episode, with most clocking in at an hour or more. Clearly, Excepter have not been overly concerned about tipping the scales in favor of quantity over quality. Though there is something refreshing about this excessiveness in the band’s output, the word “tedious” comes to mind just as often as words like “hypnotic” when describing the Excepter experience. This, coupled with the vast archive of their free live material, makes the prospect of a double-live album not an altogether appealing one. Fortunately, Presidence has been skillfully compiled with an ear toward the most engaging and varied improvisations still in the vaults, a Dick’s Picks volume of sorts for the discerning Excepter enthusiast.
Presidence has the potential to delight and frustrate in equal measure. Much like the Dead, Excepter’s reliance on lengthy, unmoored improvisational jams often results in long expanses of shiftless noodling or swells of irritating cacophony. The six-part “Teleportation” suite that opens the first disc of the album is a case in point: the boom-bap of the drum machine on “Kal” wears out its welcome long before the track ends, and “Lil” creates a fascinating swirl of tension that never finds its catharsis. It should be noted, however, that Excepter do not promise resolution, or even coherence, to their audience. Unlike many groups who incorporate improvisation into their performances, Excepter are uninterested in locating and exploiting a “groove,” and indeed the group seems to eschew the notion that their explorations are leading to a terminus or apotheosis. Although this decidedly tantric approach to composition may seem lofty and conceptual, campy humor is always lurking in the wings. Witness the half-assed cover of Sade’s “Smooth Operator” that spontaneously emerges on “Kop,” Excepter’s female members shiftlessly crooning over a canned drum machine rhythm, with Ryan intoning a typically snarling, paranoid monologue overtop: “Criminal cops on the streets, crawling up the sidewalks, spreading diseases.”
However, for every instance of high postmodernist mindfuck across the two discs — and there are more than a few — there is an equal amount of time given over to sincere, inspired musicianship. “Leng” uses the basic kosmische template to create a minimal soundscape propelled by a chugging analog synth and a kraut-inspired bass rhythm, embellished with ornamental flute trills. The title track is a half-hour solo synth excursion, a rarity in the Excepter discography, with Ryan teasing out brilliant, cyclical sequences of trance-inducing electronics. “The Anti-Noah” utilizes the live sampling of a weather radio among its arsenal, and manages to be suspenseful even in its moody formlessness. At the 10-minute mark, “The Open Well” shifts unexpectedly from shapeless, exploratory noise to comprehensible, minimal wave-inspired pop.
For Excepter, moments like these are not so much a matter of coalescence as emergence. These improvisations are rhizomatic — not predicated on the assumption that structure is a desirable endpoint, but rather content to allow song structure to bubble up and dissolve with its own logic and duration. This working method, with its inherent side effects of excess and prolificacy, runs the risk of alienating or exhausting even Excepter’s most adventurous listeners, and whether or not one enjoys Presidence depends largely on whether this practice resonates; and resonance is a highly contingent, subjective process. However, if you do manage to hum along at their frequency and wavelength, you are in for one of the longest, strangest, most well-documented trips in the contemporary indie scene.