Beyond The Sea
Styles: globalization, nostalgia
Others: Moss of Aura, J Dilla, Samiyam, The Caretaker
“That purer air which the poets have vainly tried to situate in paradise and which could induce so profound a sensation of renewal only if it had been breathed before, since the true paradises are the paradises that we have lost.”
–Marcel Proust, In Search of Lost Time: Time Regained
Monster Rally’s latest album Beyond the Sea does not stray far from the various established codes, signs, practices, and sounds that have outlined and defined most sample-based music. Whether the “codes” are the glissandos of samples falling into and out of pitch and/or tempo, the sound of vinyl crackling (“real” or simulated), stuttering samples as motifs repeating ad nauseum, the running ideology of making the old new through a filtering of historical sounds (established and/or forgotten) through contemporary techno-industrial machines (e.g., M.P.C.s, samplers), or the preference of individualized vignettes stitched together to create a holistic topographical vision, Ted Feighan of Monster Rally clearly understands the guiding principles of the inherently Situationist project of sampled music. While that may be the case, a question kept sounding in my ear as I listened to Beyond the Sea: “Is this enough?” As a privileged 21st-century subject, Feighan’s meditation on the question of a hyper-multi-cultured pastiche-subjectivity (see the cover art) becomes something that is expected — “exoticism-at-hand.” While I hold a pessimistic view concerning the efficaciousness of most sample-based music, what is actually interesting about Beyond the Sea, and probably the only thing interesting about it, is that it does not radicalize the “familiar” (i.e., make the known unknown), but rather it makes the familiar feel more familiar, a feeling of nostalgia for worlds that the listener has never set foot on.
Last year, Feighan left his listeners unfettered and floating on his Deep Sea EP; now he invites them to the atmospheres of new lands of Beyond the Sea. In the hyper-globalized world of Monster Rally, there are no longer “open” spaces. Satellites can single out and capture “pirate utopias” in an instant; it is impossible to live off the grid. While Beyond the Sea is essentially a return to land or the known, the land the listener lands on is a place where all islands and continents are stitched back together, a reformed Pangaea. Sounds of different styles of “world music” blend together without sounding like a gimmick or becoming kitsch. Feighan’s culturally porous sampling aesthetic, which could come off as violent if looked at an unfavorable angle, seeks to bridge “worlds” together — at least human worlds.
We return to this stitched Pangaea with a feeling of nostalgia but without a reference to what we should be nostalgic about. Feighan samples sounds that are familiar but cannot be located to a particular reference due to the their obscure nature (obscure to me, anyway). When pieced together, the sounds feel more familiar, as if the listener has heard the album before. (This could be good or bad, depending on the listener.) Here, we return again to the pre-individual soup where everything is connected and made familiar but not known, a world that it feels we have lost without having lived there at all — a paradise lost. The listener is not given cohesive and complicated pieces but only snapshots or vignettes of places on this land “beyond the sea,” moments of sensual intensities. The sublime moments of ecstasy are only found in these particular moments; only a trace exists. It is in these vignettes that we are given moments to exist in what everybody’s favorite mystic pedophile anarchist Hakim Bey called “temporary autonomous zones.” These places are not imaginary or fake but ultimately very real, since the affect of its atmospheres are very real themselves. The warm sounds envelop and enter the body, fallen debris of the old world salvaged together to form a new world. Beyond the Sea, then, is best listened to and observed in its totality with an eye for connections and bodies touching.
As much as Beyond the Sea unifies and connects, there is always a threat of it becoming something entirely uniform and codified. Listeners who are aware of this style of music would know what to expect when listening to this album. The shapes of the pieces, whether it is “Lava Flows,” “Honey,” “Veranda,” or “Foranger,” follow a uniform structure with only different sounds distinguishing each piece. Is following the sampler’s fetishism of finding new sounds or appropriating established sounds in new ways enough to find new lands? Is the creation of an assemblage of disparate bodies/sounds enough to create an aesthetic product that could resist cultural/ideological homogeneity?
Whether the listener sees these structural limits as a detriment to the overall project or as necessary anchors in order to create, Beyond the Sea should be listened to with an open ear to the affective forces of the album’s pseudo-nostalgic soundscapes. Perhaps fundamentally, Beyond the Sea is a search for places forgotten. That is to say, the album is made up of the primordial cultural “stuff” that cultural homogeneity has forgotten. Through the album’s repetitive sounds, which act as particular moments of heightened sensual intensities, it seeks to lure its listeners to an undiscovered country that exists in our memories and in our skin. Sure, the individual songs are structurally uniform, but this uniformity illustrates the structural similarity of how things come into and out of existence. Whether it’s the conveyor-belt movements of “Lava Flows,” the gestures found in “Waltz,” the organic form of “Animals,” or the compositional makeup of “Gold,” the shapes and forms of the natural world, along with the particular songs on Beyond the Sea, come into existence only through singular moments of explosive ruptures and leave it without much fanfare; they fade in and then fade out.
01. Lava Flows
13. Jungle Nights
14. Deep Sea
18. Beyond the Sea