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Mahjongg - RaYDONcoNG 2005

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Artist: Mahjongg

Album: RaYDONcoNG 2005

Label: Cold Crush

Review date: Sep. 7, 2005

The cover of RaYDONcoNG 2005, the latest recording by smash dance quintet Mahjongg, is peppered with a cartoonish collage of assault weapons and boomboxes. This overt reminder of the current social background can also be found in the satirical graphics emblazoning the band’s website. Their music hardly matches this somewhat valiant affront. Though the arrangement of the dance tracks brims with the reckless energy of their website and liner notes, the music itself voices an off-put attitude detached from any political center. The group’s diverse and complex palette of aural colorings ensures there’s plenty of hue but too little cry in this protest music.

Engulfing the paper-thin mechanics of its debut EP Machinegong, this full-length pits its squawking guitar parts and token shouted vocal cries against a full battery of raucuous percussion. Despite a production value creative enough to make you think it’s the tinkerings of a an auto-mechanic-cum-mad-scientist, the tone here is nonetheless detached, not near catchy or energetic enough to make you want to dance. It’s one thing to admire their technical ingenuity, which is manifestly evident, but apparently it’s enough to point a clownish finger at a gun these days to rage against the machine.

The music tells a quite different story. Despite a lethargic entrance, the players (five in all) hit a stride somewhere about two-thirds through the album: \"Hot Lava\" and \"Blivable dogggiiieeee (Brazzaville mixx)\" are the album’s most coherent and developed musical statements (though just try to make sense of that title). Their stuttering beats settle trance-like into a mutant groove—with pretensions of wartime angst melted away, the music finds an internal rhythm that draws us in towards its pleasing wash of synthed beats as much as it drives us away with its machine-like inhumanity. As here, the boomboxes cribbed on the album cover remind us of the split role music has had for the soldiers in Iraq, both as a psychological jumpstart for battle, blazing on the tank PA systems that roll into Baghdad, and as an inhuman torture device meant to destroy the eardrums of non-American ears. From this perspective, this music plays an astonishing counterpart to that infamous heavy metal—firmly embracing the ugly chaos of distorted American electronic music, Mahjongg recovers some of the nuance and beauty of noisy clatter that has all but disappeared when music’s used as a weapon. That is, if this kind of clarity can be ascribed to the meaty beats and their makers at all. RaYDONcoNG 2005 finds itself conflicted, and it’s clear that we ought to be listening to the direction its music leads rather than mining their gutteral sqauwks for any real critiques or assertions of value.

By Joel Calahan

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