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Dead Comet Alive - Plays from Inverted Sewers

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Artist: Dead Comet Alive

Album: Plays from Inverted Sewers

Label: American Tapes

Review date: Sep. 25, 2003

Dead Comet Alive's Plays from Inverted Sewers is a not-to-be-missed treasure from today's leading folk music label, American Tapes. Dead Comet Alive make noise indistinguishable from the chance soundtrack each of us hear daily: visiting the zoo, standing beside the highway, shopping in the drugstore, being abducted. Plays from Inverted Sewers is a basic affirmation of living.

America needs this music now, at a time when her government, like her Detroit Tigers, persists on a stubborn pace to break the record for botched affairs. She needs a music that rejects the social platitudes of the era with blood and thunder and an unarticulated agenda. If we're to be dissatisfied as a group, we need to feel before we can express, before we can make a trend out of photocopying George W. Bush's face over and over until it's just 10 or 12 giant grains on an album cover, defaced with whiteout.

To this end, Plays from Inverted Sewers proposes a recurring, high-pitched drone, somewhere between a chainsaw and a sine wave, as its thesis. Perfect. Like the horrific something in a horror movie, you learn to expect this noise whenever all is quiet, though of course you never know precisely how or when it will surface. Meanwhile, we're treated to what must be a deep queue of field recordings. Voices and motorcycles in particular have an important place in the mix, along with open-ended tape edits. Hard to pin down most of the sources, but the noises certainly have an aura of contact-mic about them.

Appropriate, because Plays from Inverted Sewers reflects aspects of its environment with great precision. Like most American Tapes material, this noise is a noise made by people, a noise made from scraps of living and imagining. Destruction feels like an attractive outcome for many people. Destruction feels like pleasure, when we have it under control. The sensation of being repressed tends to inspire destructive impulses, and we are repressed. On this CD, destruction is not only imagined, but narrated in its journey from latency to realization. And the narrative happens without resting on the crutch of the old quiet/loud seesaw. Dead Comet Alive show restraint so as to lend more bite to their destructive moments, and their timing proves impeccable. The law of diminishing returns suggests that even the most cacophonous sound eventually stands to lessen in impact, even if it remains sonically abrasive. Therefore Dead Comet Alive play around with noise, but rarely plunge directly into it.

Sixty-one copies of Plays from Inverted Sewers exist. Nevertheless, the chances are quite good that you can own one. Even if not, you can buy American Tapes 261 or 262 and likely experience the same satisfaction. Not because the music will sound the same, but because American Tapes, Hanson Records, and other CD-R, tape, and homecut vinyl labels circumscribe a thriving, like-minded community of musicians making noise that matters deeply to them and their audience. The very fact that 260 American Tapes releases exist – over the course of just a few years – points to a degree of momentum from which art rarely benefits. Moreover, the operation is egalitarian; there are too many releases to own them all, so everyone will have his or her own unique collection, no more or less complete than any other. You are invited by Dead Comet Alive to act on your impulses, to experience and make noise, and you are welcome in the community simply because you are, after all, a person alive right now.

By Ben Tausig

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