Thursday, April 05, 2007

CD: Avant Hard by Add N to X

Add N To X: Avant Hard
Mute Records

The middle part of my formative years, musically speaking, took place in Nuremburg, Germany. I was there from 1980 – 1984. This may explain why I still have an affinity for European bands whose track lists mostly consist of electronic or synth instrumentals.

The only American counterparts to this music (that I can remember listening to at the time), were Devo, and early hip-hop classics (George Clinton’s “Cosmic Dog,” Afrika Bambaataa’s “Planet Rock,” and Jonzun Crew’s “Space Cowboy”).

I’d been hooked since I first heard Robert Palmer’s “Johnny & Mary.” After that, it wasn’t long before I was freaking out to the sounds of KMFDM, Bauhaus, Kraftwerk, Tones On Tail, and the Art of Noise (both the Trevor Horn influenced experimentia, and the later more commercial work – the “Peter Gunn” cover, Max Headroom’s “Paranoimia” – that Dudley, Morley and Langan popularized).

I am particularly fond of these last two strains of AoN. You can feel their influence in some odd places like Wizardzz (Horn gone minimalistic, and jammy), or Daft Punk (Homewerk captured the early schizoid nature of AoN rather well). However, a number of their direct descendants are found playing under the unlikely and algebraic moniker Add N to X.

Possessing only their last two albums (Add Insult to Injury, Loud Like Nature), and in search of something new, I picked up Add N To X’s third album Avant Hard (1999) expecting to encounter more of their groovy, synth-based, math-y goofiness (or moog-tinged body music, if you will).

What I found was an album that Trevor Horn wishes he had created.

Starting with “Barry 7’s Contraption” (an odd little concept piece that mixes the mouth harp with a Danny Elfman-esque loop, amidst other oddities), Avant Hard takes you through some of the strangest musical landscapes created this side of Aphex Twin’s less aggressive ventures.

Along the way, you’re taken on video gamey joyrides (“Skills”), menacing cartoon parades (“Steve’s Going To Teach Himself Who’s Boss,” reminiscent of AoN’s “A Time For Fear” and MC 900 Foot Jesus’ Welcome to My Nightmare), sped past a dramatic and arid desert landscape(“Revenge of the Black Regent”), until you end up in the breathy embrace of a confused muse (“Oh Yeah, Oh No”), nestled cozily in a lush Morricone cloud (“Machine is Bored With Love”).

If all of this sounds too esoteric, too “challenging,” then I’m simply not doing a good job of conveying the amount of fun to be had listening to this album. Yes, they use a loop of a horse galloping as the basis for one of the album’s more aggressive songs (“Ann’s Everyday Equestrian”); but, they aren’t shy to use a basic punk drumbeat, nor a more traditional rock rhythm section on a number of these songs, though.

There is a considerable evolution between this and the two albums that succeed it (though not necessarily in approach); Avant Hard makes an already difficult to place, yet greatly enjoyable band, even harder to pin down.

--thebeigeone, 494 words.



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