Drum Eyes Gira Gira

[Upset the Rhythm; 2010]

Rating: 3/5

Styles: psych, Krautrock, space, chiptune
Others: DJ Scotch Egg, Boredoms, Hella

In 1917, Marcel Duchamp signed “R. Mutt” to an upside-down urinal and titled it “Fountain.” Nine decades later, breakcore/chiptune artist DJ Scotch Egg put out 20 minutes of severely strained Game Boys performing send-ups of baroque music, happy-hardcore, and classic bebop and titled it “KFC Core.” Shigeru Ishihara, a.k.a. DJ Scotch Egg, is never going to cast doubt on our very notion of the full-length album the way that Duchamp and the Dadaists did to the work of high art, but the man has been responsible for releasing some fascinating music in a subversively conceptual vein. DJ Scotch Egg’s past musical output consisted of frenzied industrial gabba, given a dimension of irony and familiarity from its performance on jacked-up Game Boys. The songs were always built around a concept — a particular combination of instruments or a new distortion of the Game Boy hardware — and the melodies were often an afterthought, ripped from Bach, Grieg, Moondog, or even from an early Hella song. The chiptune timbres and the sunny 8-bit melodies gave the hardcore noise explosions a level of humor and manic association that would have been impossible using strictly drum machines or live instrumentation alone.

DJ Scotch Egg’s new project, Drum Eyes, is also all about contrasts. Drum Eyes’ most famous member is the drummer E-Da, formerly of Boredoms, but most songs feature at least two drummers, as well as numerous guitarists and purveyors of sound effects. In an interview, Shige said that the songs were edited down from the “good bits” of band jam sessions, but they vary widely in terms of instrumentation, sound, and mood, including retro/futurist Krautrock instrumentals, ham-fisted doom metal dirges, and burbling synthesizer interludes. Gira Gira succeeds at creating a mood of bluster and import, but DJ Scotch Egg’s customary subversive humor is sorely missed, replaced by weighty song suites with titles such as “Future Yakuza” and “Future Police” that Shige intends to help “imagine how in the future they will become the same.”

This new tone is not as much as a problem for me as the album’s lack of songs is. The video game textures of “Future Police” are interesting, but the melody plods. It does evoke a “future” world, but it is a pretty boring one: an archaic video game tableau in which the same futuristic flying car passes by the same blocky starscape at the same speed, at predictable and exact intervals. Although diverse in terms of instrumentation, each song follows the same formula of thin melody and trippy sound effects, driven along by fantastic drumming. It is the textures that contain the most ideas on this album. The combination of two drummers can result in a thunderous percussive onslaught, and the (too-infrequent) use of Scotch Egg’s Game Boy creates an interesting clash of the pre-adolescent and the over-the-hill. The big idea behind this album might be an exploration of duality; the title Gira Gira is Japanese for “bling bling,” and the themes of doubling and dualism referenced by the album don’t end there: there are the aforementioned two drummers, the doubling in song titles (the two “Future” tracks and “50-50”), and the eyes of the band’s moniker.

The most successful songs on the album invoke this dualism sonically, pursuing an opposition of flat and round, live and synthetic. In “Future Police,” crackling 8-bit percussion is gradually melded with first a live kick drum, then a full set. The two become one, almost imperceptibly. Album opener “50-50” climaxes in a psychedelic breakdown, but instead of the expected guitar freakout wailing above the song’s frantic drum fills, the listener hears the sound of a Game Boy powering on and then clean, tranquil waves of mathematically perfect 8-bit notes. It is a fascinating union of synthesized and organic, the acid trip and the sugar high, that seems to express my postmodern experience of freaking out much better than the 60s references of the average psych band. Unfortunately for the Scotch Egg fan, this song is an exact reprise of the track “Drumized” from Scotch Egg’s Load release of the same name — not just in the melody and dynamics; the last three minutes are the exact same song, but with a different (though inspired) drummer.

“13 Magician” surpasses the other tracks with its rich textures, manifested by two guitarists, three drummers, and three saxophonists. The song’s one-chord melody comes from a foghorn blast from all three saxophones, each wavering around one note. Drum Eyes’ multiple drummers create a massive tribal stomp while violins and siren guitars clash ominously. The song’s title refers to the number of musicians/magicians that appear on the track, and it seems significant that it is an odd number: this track seems to transcend the album’s theme of dualism. I will be interested to see what this project yields when the band next sits down to write another set of experiments in musical texture.

Links: Drum Eyes - Upset the Rhythm

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