Excepter Alternation

[5RC; 2006]

Rating: 4/5

Nothing wrong with a good striptease – some folks even demand them. Me, I'm
usually an instant gratification kind of guy (the type of dude who chews on
handfuls of Altoids at a time), but I can swing a slow burner when I've got the
last few hours of my night to kill. That final chunk of the day is the perfect
time to cozy up with Excepter, and I was cool with their seconds-like-months
bedroom moves for the first three years, but goddamn, they're six (real) albums
into it and they haven't even taken their fingers off their zippers. So far it's
been all prospect and no prize for this revolving-door NYC experimental project
– there have been payoffs, sure, but those were only fulfilling when I was
locked into each album's excruciating tempo. Outside of those zones, Excepter's
best moments – the chilling post-Liquid Liquid cavern of "Interplay: Backroom"
and "Interplay: Your House" at the end of Self Destruction, for instance
– register as little more than lite foreplay.

PR flunkies and blog babblers are touting Alternation as Excepter's first
realized LP, and to be fair, this is our sexiest glimpse yet at John Fell Ryan
and the crew's art. Ka, the group's first eruption, felt more like a
Beaches and Canyons
aftershock than the birthing of a fully-formed entity,
and successive excursions have hinted at brilliance while forcing us to wade
through lengthy blocks of electronic ambling and rambling. Less fucked and
debilitated than its predecessors, Alternation might be the group's
smoothest front-to-back listen yet, but it still falls frustratingly short of
the orgasmic heights to which Excepter appear capable of climbing.

All this sexy talk seems stilted until you actually pop in this CD:
thrusts its pelvis where most indie-dance merely sashays or
mills about in the corner cracking one-liners. As with past Excepter releases,
walls of moans, tidal electronic melodies, and in-out grooves pervade this
disc's standout tracks, the difference being that this time around the band
balances psychedelic layers, rhythmic surges, and pop fragments almost
perfectly. Dig "Whirl Wind"'s jubilant strides towards making good on its title,
Afro-futurist synth trills and New Thing horn blurts grinding together to
approximate a post-punk rendition of Steve Reid's "Center of the Earth."
Elsewhere, sensual attention pokes through less conventional forms: "The 'Rock'
Stepper" sounds like the Manhattan sewer system come alive, percussion dripping
like leaky pipes, analog electronics and buzzed out keyboards bobbing in a murky
stream, Ryan's vocal hook gnawing like rats – and yet it still rolls with a
sweltering come-hither pulse.

Oddly, Excepter sound more like an indie rock band than ever, even as such a
wide range of elements congeal. Royal Trux had Neil Michael Hagerty grown up on
New Order rather than Skynyrd, TV On The Radio losing faith in guitars and grand
statements, a dorm-dwelling Malkmus fronting a Nigerian Suicide – all the
comparisons I can dream up disintegrate into webs of college rock RIYLs. But as
mid-'00s indie continues to peddle monolithic closed texts to close-reading
internet goobers who refuse to meet daring art at its physical points of
reception and conception, Excepter remain challenging and thought-provoking in
spite of increasing similarities to usual suspects. A quick scan of
's sessionography reveals as much: recorded over a two year span,
the album is comprised of home tapings, snippets of live shows, and even tracks
of environmental burblings, courtesy of the pipes in Ryan's apartment. Sound
quality varies, as does song quality; this record has about as much organic
unity as an Ishmael Reed novel, and is guaranteed to exasperate and alienate
practically every listener at one point or another.

This incoherence seems appropriate in light of Excepter's larger aesthetic,
though, which collapses audience-performer boundaries and diffuses hegemonic
rock crit expectations at every turn. Ryan does the former in "If I Were You," a
live song he begins by deadpanning, "I'd like to shake hands with each and
every one of you/ But I'm on stage"
over dirge-y drones, giving the lie to
his rockstar pose with a feeble, knowingly inept vocal performance that isn't
far removed from normal speech. Here Excepter evoke a reaction they often bait:
"What is this anemic indie bullshit? Me and my bros could do the same thing, and
we don't even know how to play!" Thing is, there's something pleasantly
egalitarian about rudimentary performances, especially when they transcend in
spite of themselves, which Excepter's songs often do. Haunting, orgasmic,
unsettling – whatever we think of Excepter's jams, it's liberating to hear such
well-rendered emotional spaces arising from simplicity, gimmick humor, and
budget instrumentation. Excepter pursue inanity as hedonistically as they do
ecstasy, and they end up finding a lot of life in both. So I'm okay with
being more half-naked fidgeting, more tease. The iPod/file-sharing/MP3
blog generation needs more albums that force us to wrestle, that frustrate, that
demand we experience the music outside the comfort of our headphones and then
try making our own art. Blue balls never felt so good.

1. Ice Cream Van
2. Lypscnm E6! X
3. The "Rock" Stepper
4. The Ladder
5. If I Were You (Live)
6. Whirl Wind
7. (The Pipes)
8. Knock Knock
9. Apt. Living
10. Op Pop
11. Back Me Up (Show)


Some releases are so incredible we just can’t help but exclaim EUREKA! While many of our picks here defy categorization and explore the constructed boundaries between ‘music’ and ‘noise,’ others complement, continue, or rupture traditions that provide new forms and ways of listening. Not all of our favorites will be listed here, but we think each EUREKA! album is worthy of careful consideration. This section is a work-in-progress, so expect its definition to be in perpetual flux.

Most Read