Old Time Relijun Catharsis In Crisis

[K; 2007]

Styles: yes wave, no wave, kinda wave
Others: Captain Beefheart, James Chance, DNA

I was reluctant at first to review Old Time Relijun's latest full-length, Catharsis In Crisis, because after roughly 30 seconds of listening, I had decided that it was "gah-bage," promptly chucking it alongside some other piles of discs with an obligatory eye-roll. I dreaded the notion of having to review it, wondering if switching on the gas oven and doing myself in would be an appropriate way out. But how would my partner, family, and friends have explained that one? My deadline was fast approaching and, armed with my trusty crossbow, I realized that I had to finally confront this albatross without an oven. But here's the kicker: one brisk morning, I discovered that I really liked this record. I even found myself singing along to it. Shit! Why?

Well, not only are Aaron Hartman and Germaine Baca incredibly talented musicians who provide one hell of a propulsive rhythmic foundation -- the breathtaking instrumental "Garden of Pomegrantes" goes to great lengths to prove this -- but Arrington de Dionyso is that type of frontman who stirs your loins. Some of my favorite vocalists have intense, loin-stirring deliveries -- Billy MacKenzie, Peter Hammill, Demetrios Stratos, Diamanda Galas, Liz Fraser, Cathy Berberian, Joan La Barbara -- and de Dionyso has now taken a place within that pantheon. He possesses a demonic delivery that makes me go a little weak in the knees. When he wails "O Moonlight/ O canopy of Constellations" on "In the Crown of the Lost Light," for example, my heart flutters and palms clam up, as he reaches right in and touches the darkest corridors with little shame. Although he has assuredly drunk from the same waters that Don Vliet once sampled, he still presents a distinct quality that outweighs its reference points.

And there are indeed reference points. Okay, so I'm reluctant to drag this up in yet another Old Time Relijun review, and I know it must be a fucking drag for them to have to keep reading it, and I apologize in advance for carrying the tradition forth, but: Old Time Relijun owe a debt to Captain Beefheart. Ah, what the hell! I will raise the Beefheart with a Birthday Party and a James Chance and the Contortions, because, really, I am a bastard like that. And why is it that I keep thinking of Joy Division on "Akavishim"? Is it me, or is there something in that bass and drum combo? Whatever the case might be, it is thrown a curve ball when razorblade guitar licks and sax scree come out of nowhere, along with that huffing and puffing wolf of a voice that descends upon the house and blows it right down to the ground. "Dark Matter" comes in right after, with the sultry saunter of a guitar swimming up to its ears in reverb; Aaron Hartman's contrabass pouts right with it, while Baca provides a leading finger that pulls the track into an outro of whining vocals and worrying atmospherics. Fucking gorgeous, if you ask me.

Catharsis In Crisis is the first release to feature the perfect complement to the de Dionyso caterwaul and the OTR rhythm power duo: saxophonist Benjamin Hartman. Incidentally, the addition of Hartman is where the James Chance reference comes from, but it is certainly no unfortunate comparison. When he squeals alongside the serpentine strut of "Veleno Mortale," it adds to the crushing brutality, and mixed vigorously with Arrington wailing in Italian, it becomes downright devastating. His longing timbre adds to the unchaste vocal dynamics and the licentious swagger of the drumbeat and contrabass of "Dig Down Deeper." It's surely one of the more subdued moments, but when it's nearly finished, you're hoping that the end of the tunnel dug up by de Dionyso leads right into your house.

The entire album is drenched with ambitious imagery, expressed in schizophrenic fashion, full of random outbursts rubbing up alongside introspective passages -- in other words, it's entirely off the rails. We all know that such an arty position in music will consequently bring out the claws in critics and listeners; overt dramaticism very seldom rewards musicians, and mostly leads to cultish followings. I suppose I can understand someone losing patience with the frenzied manner in which it's delivered, but that's a crying shame. I swear to you, if you just turn Catharsis In Crisis up loud and throw yourself about the house a bit, it will begin to make some sense, at least on the visceral level. I suggest starting with the Contortions-esque "The Tightest Cage," which personally induced such body jerking that I think my cats are now seeking punitive damages. Congratulations, OTR: you have just converted another listener.

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