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Astral Social Club - Octuplex

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Artist: Astral Social Club

Album: Octuplex

Label: VHF

Review date: Mar. 17, 2009

Twenty years from now, if I get asked to come up with a list of records or artists that speak of the late 2000s, then Neil Campbell’s Astral Social Club, and very definitely this second full-length for VHF, will be on it. The collision of electronic and acoustic textures is extreme and compelling all at once – spastic drum machines, flickering synthesizer riffs, mangled guitar lines and countless other bits of sonic debris cluttering and then overloading the stereo spectrum. This density of sonic information, packed into every ASC piece, overwhelms, and aurally approximates our own daily information flood, suggesting that instead of resisting it, maybe we should ride it.

Most significant musically, though, is how ASC links up a host of musical eras in a cohesive, but completely unpretentious way: free-form rock and exploratory fusion of the ’70s, early ’90s rave culture, the irreverence of ’80s post-punk, and of course, the current generation of psychedelic pedal worshipers at the margins of CD-R culture. But to suggest that Campbell’s vision is a hybrid of these influences misses the point entirely.

No, ASC is a full-on, raging, mutant music, not sure of what it is or what it’s here to do, but intent on barreling forward all the same. Campbell knocks techno askew of its 4/4 girders ("Caustic Roe" and "Hot Toxer"); rigs up wired, oddball ambient (is that a lawnmower droning on, in full-doppler effect, on "Pilgrim Sunurst"?), and even spins some personal alternate-universe soundclash (check the distorted bass line churning away beneath the ballad-like harmony floating above the mix on "Sweet Spraint").

Yet another musical era ancestor in ASC’s twisted lineage could be early electronic music. In the 1950s, the explicit idea was to do away with the fundamental, and make music that was all texture, overtones and side events. In other words, eliminate the center. Campbell excels at just this, replacing any sure foundation with a principle of instability. He does it on the song-level (you tell me if those are those drum machines or a synthesizer sequence played at neck-breaking speeds on "Mügik Churn"), and at the album level, each piece tumbling from one to the next, the edits jarring but exhilarating all the same. Even the song titles seem intent on overthrowing a stable core of meaning (What does a "Muscle Adductor" do, and how confused is a "Radial Hermaphrodite"?). ASC pulls you in multiple directions and never really lets on which way it prefers. Octuplex is inscrutable, irreducible, and that rarest of things: complex music that comes off simple. Analyzing it too much just sucks all the fun out of it.

By Matthew Wuethrich

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