Don’t tell me you need a backdrop! Don’t tell me you need a theory! Don’t tell me you need context, eh, don’t tell me you need the play to which this is a soundtrack. I have needs too. You’ve got the wrong puppeteer.
Gag; which would y’all prefer? Cynicism or crisis?
Proscenium conjures both, overlapping. I’d hate to commit to one at the expense of the other. Easy cynicism cuts off discussion early (opening line: “Anyone can make a nice enough tea out of lukewarm dishwater drone, but anyone can take a shit in it too.”) while picking the scab and having an honest crisis about nigh-on 4’33” barely-there drone would feel like outing myself round these parts.
Possible angle: no one — nor you, nor I, nor Recchion himself — would be “here” without 1996’s Chaotica, not because it’s necessarily his best work (co-founding LAFMS might be his best “work”) or because it might be the best album I’ve personally heard in the past year #gloriousbackgroundresearch, but because it has nestled itself snugly into that “THE album to check out by such-and-such” category. Y’know, it’s one of Daniel Lopatin’s 13 favorite albums ever, etc. All with good reason: I could go on and on about Chaotica’s insane, garbled-big-band carnival-drone minutae were this a DeLorean post.
But — though I regularly hear in discographies a tangible, slippery, somehow external inspiration that is seized/fumbled/gone in its moment — I’m probably not alone in being vexed by criticism that measures an artist exclusively against his or her former glories. It’s an always-restrictive attitude that precludes development and evolution. Yet it happens every day, as one of the only structured means to make sense of new work that doesn’t click.
Most frustratingly, Recchion and his album don’t need to be here. They need nothing. It’s we crisis-prone that have needs (again, would love to see that play); Recchion sits there blowing smoke rings (all “who are you?” while I realize I’ve been silently extracting from the album cover), and “blowing smoke” intimations notwithstanding, it’s easy to believe that he’s so zen that he’s simply drifted onward and upward from the blunt cultural clusters of Chaotica or 2004’s I Love My Organ, leaving we chumps in Flatland with only the most receded echoes of dissonance, the thinnest slivers of fusiform buzz.
Except. Recchion gifted Proscenium with a nice excuse to gab on more about Chaotica guilt-free in the album’s closing track, “Lean Your Eye Into the Picture.” Snip! It’s still on the subtle side, and you can forget about development over its 12 minutes besides the cumulatively maddening effect of sax-mute-nosed vocals murmuring incessantly and incomprehensibly over strobing vowels and decapitated orchestral samples, but the wild-eyed sense of scale and abusively blurry relationship to dusty phonography that was so ahead of its time in 1996 buttress it starkly against the rest of the album. It may be the B-side of a separate 7-inch and thus feel like a “bonus,” but make no mistake: Recchion knows that piece is killer.
Playing that card still feels like cheating, though: without that 12-minuter, the album’d still be fairly long and nearly impossible for me to write about with any sort of edge.Because as much as “creating a world” is a perennial part of the vocabulary in discussing Recchion, as much as he purportedly wishes to “drench” us, the tone that comes across is withdrawn, tortoise-like if not necessarily ostrich-like. I’m not a purist — I’ve wanted to tape some gorgeous furnaces’ rackets for possible AOTY inclusion — but is steady panning “composition” enough for the catatonia of “Entrance Music No. 2”?
So another angle, then: attempting to “situate” this album would only drive me further from it.
More broadly, maybe the role of the contemporary critic, barring in this age a greater degree of comprehensive knowledge and context (and cynicism!) than the most casual reader, is to spend just absurd time with the albums about which he or she writes, let the music in, find a spark, sacrifice some coherence in his or her worldview, deny narratives of efficiency, be the wastrels, become one’s own worst M. Gira and lock oneself into dark-heated rooms with albums (cf. Michaelangelo Matos’ Slow Listening movement; it’d be a magnificent turning of the tables for the critic to blow a delicate, heartfelt, ultimately ignorant bubble for the savvy masses to burst).
I did no such thing with this album.
I can say that I flung myself into this album like a brick wall over and over, pretending not to have given up early, but to be sure, I treated it as work. I popped it in after drinking three cups of coffee and fingerdrummed some really interesting polyrhythms while it was playing. I nodded sagely. I sang some Lennon: “iyee-aii… so-LAtion…” before realizing there was still music playing. Going back to that “dishwater tea” thing: knowing I need only steep the album in a glimmering snowfall or some other New Age-y shlock, knowing I had control over my experience of it scared me. This is that honest crisis right here: Proscenium threatens the act of criticism, but Tom Recchion means no harm. Cut the intermedium, and it’s criticism eating itself, which I imagine is what this looks like.
Yet I might’ve cackled with pride to have rigged my experience against this album. My reasons are bare: I clearly wanted, in approaching this album, to take.
Did I mention that I find hyper-subjective and waffling reviews comically hit-or-miss?
A Christgauian paragraph would lower stakes, I think, or even a Weingartenesque Twitter-length nub: “Off-duty Batteries Not Included saucers having a few beers, dozing off the TV drones, only occasionally dropping off completely.” These reviews would be over and in the past/archive before the album itself were finished.
Maybe the album’s just quiet. I lean my ear into “Exit Music No. 1” and hear a few seconds of decisively yuletide noodling emerge and disappear.
Some days I can stare into smoke for hours.