Excepter Black Beach

[Paw Tracks; 2009]

Styles: waves, rocks, caveman techno, a debate on aesthetics
Others: Black Dice, No Neck Blues Band, field recordings

Black Beach is a five-song, 36-minute EP based on recordings from impromptu Big Sur performances delivered to an audience of unsuspecting and likely unimpressed beach-goers and sea gulls. For those without the time or stomach for subtext, here's pretty much how it goes down: waves crash and birds cry, while Excepter decorate the famously bucolic landscape with unobtrusive sound from various handheld percussion instruments and a flute, all played with pokerfaced caprice and sunbaked languor. The EP's structure parallels the ebb and flow of the Pacific tide, opening and closing with wave sounds, while the climax comes in the second track ("Castle Morro") where the facade of naturalism cracks and a skeletal techno track emerges from the soft swells of the sea. The electronic as the organic, truly.

Black Beach's immediate predecessor in the vast underworld of Excepter's discography was Debt Dept, which was one of the few Excepter releases you could sorta pin down: Cabaret Voltaire, agit-prop, and coherent song structures. Oh my. The band's impressive website, which reads like dispatches from a Dadaist Ministry of Truth, blithely notes that fans and critics suggested "promoting the track ‘Kill People’ from Debt Dept in an especial manner," a potential *gasp* single. Oh silly humans, with their petty hierarchies and compulsive quest for substance. Excepter, as they would have you know, are above, or maybe below, such considerations. Listening to Black Beach, it is truly remarkable how, after nearly a decade of prolific activity, Excepter remain somehow immune to the natural pull of the career arc. Hear that salty wind, the chiming bell, and arrhythmic maracas? That's the sound of a band that answers to no one and nothing.

It's also the sound of a thousand New Age-y recordings being played in spas at this very moment (minus the arrhythmic maracas, perhaps), and by EP's end, it remains uncertain what these esoteric provocateurs bring to the beach besides a little mischief and some aimless whimsy. It's clear they are enjoying the novelty of being at Big Sur (I actually suspect they don't get much exposure to sunlight in their NYC day-to-days), but the listener may not see the inherent interest in their vacation recordings. The accompanying DVD Black Beach, which syncs the tracks on the EP to footage from the performances, confirms our worst suspicions: the band seemed to regard this as some sort of old-fashioned Happening (ew). A few of them even get naked, while others remain in their standard head-to-toe New York Bohemian costumes. In general, they wander the shore bemusedly, as if they have no idea what to do with the beach or their instruments, while the camera soaks in this non-event as if it were a sancitified Dionysian ritual.

As their name suggests, Excepter are primarily a reactionary force: their perpetual dance between harmony and emptiness is a compelling tease, one that lays bare unquestioned tensions and contradictions in underground music. Their concerns are urban ones, and in Black Beach, they seem outmatched against the bottomless sea and endless expanses of Big Sur, which hold no petty hierarchies to be ridiculed. Excepter have always been oddly comfortable with chaos, but in Black Beach that comfortability becomes complacency, and their absurdist humor ends up implicating only themselves and their audience. Then again, maybe that's a perfectly valid artistic statement: pitted against the sublime natural world, what can we do but laugh at our great pathetic selves? And so the great Excepter debate goes.

1. Sand Dollar
2. Castle Morro
3. Pismo Pool
4. The Black Beach
5. (Waves)

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