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Fritz Ostermayer - Kitsch Concrète

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Artist: Fritz Ostermayer

Album: Kitsch Concrète

Label: Mego

Review date: Dec. 9, 2003

For there has been born in Austria a middle-aged cynic with pistol stuck in his smile. A veteran broadcaster, DJ, author, and Austrian, Fritz Ostermayer has delivered a fully formed debut, and while forty-odd years in the making, there is due reward for the waiting. For his are not the observations of the spring chicken that crosses the road, but the accompanying frog stapled to its back: Ostermayer’s Kitsch Concrète is a trenchant read on our contemporary ugliness, a report done on location in the beast’s belly of Austria during the time of Bush II. And while Kitsch Concrète may come uncomfortably close to reveling in the day’s decadence, it does not submit. Ostermayer’s play is in the anarchic sandbox and it is a deliberate one: sand is thrown in the appropriate directions.

Ostermayer chose the album’s title for its apt description: the collision of kitsch and musique concrete is the album’s dominant strategy. He begins in the tradition of musique concrete and takes kitschy music as sound source, but doesn’t stop there: kitsch is also gathered in its ideological form, in philosophy prefabricated for mass consumption. Ostermayer performs a rescue operation: after importing kitsch from its former habitat, he repositions it in a fecund context, both musical and ideological, filling it with significance it either once or never possessed. Instrumentation that led foul former lives – pastel synths, melodramatic guitar, synthetic drumbeats soaked in reverb – are here given a second chance. Trite romantic and religious sentiments are gutted, stuffed with sarcasm, and left as examples. The cover art, a still from Ulrich Seidl’s film Hundstage, echoes Ostermayer’s intentions: a garish orgy is turned grainy and given the look of a classical painting. At the same time Seidl ridicules a classical take on beauty, he salvages from the pile of flesh a trace of worth. False sentiment is filled with irony until it explodes and finally finds significance.

Kitsch Concrète’s originals and covers split time between English and German. The narrator in “Little Ave Maria” is a backstabbed lover who sticks a knife in the guilty partner’s dog because, in a lyrical moment turned perfect by ESL, “it reminds me on you” (sic). His choice of Sparks’ “Fun Bunch of Guys” is topical: it’s an updated version of the apocalyptic horsemen story where all-too-human aliens replace riders and proclaim they come from a planet where even war is fun. It prompts the obvious question: how alien is a ‘fun war’ from our present situation? While there is genuine ugliness on Kitsch Concrète – a split second of a baby coughing and a chorus of prolonged screaming are cringeworthy examples – Ostermayer isn’t the misanthrope here: he’s here to jar us from our complacency and let us know when that complacency turns misanthropic.

With so much over-the-top subject matter, the album’s understated bits beckon: the clipped guitar solo and plainspoken vocals on “Alpharhythmen” make for a respite from ballads on stabbed pets and STDs. There’s little sarcasm to keep listeners at bay here: the song scrapes mustard off the irony and foregrounds the album’s economic synth-driven composition and compound rhythmic figures. Throughout Kitsch Concrète, Ostermayer is especially deft at combining incongruous rhythms with textural laptop small-talk into a seam-filled whole that perseveres with grace. And trudging across it all are the vocals. With melodies so ripe they seem lifted from old standards, the vocals reveal a romantic behind the laptop with a love of carrying a tune, his disdain for any but the most austere sentiment notwithstanding.

By Sean Casey

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