Various Artists: The Exquisite Corpse Game (Believers Roast)
Believers Roast bring together a cornucopia of artists to stitch together surreal musique concrete for the 21st Century. Joe Whyte dips his soldiers into the curate’s egg.
Kavus Tortabi, owner and captain of Believers Roast Records (as well as being a psychedelic warrior of note and guitar mangler from Knifeworld and The Cardiacs) has attempted something quite remarkable here. Exquisite Corpse was a method beloved of the Surrealists in which different collaborators add to a piece of art, only being shown a little of the last piece until the end of the project. Not unlike the Victorian parlour game, as it were, where players would write on a folded piece of paper, the compteted sentence or phrase only revealed at the end.
The Exquisite Corpse Game uses similar rules to create a linked piece of music; the collaboraters herein were only allowed to hear a snatch of the end of the preceding track (called “folds” here) and asked to compose a piece between one and four minutes long and in some way compliment the “fold” before it.
It has to be admitted that in a sprawling project like this that some of it works better than others; the opening “fold” by Khyam Allami is a serpentine, slithering journey through Morrocan souks with Arabic instrumentation such as the Oud used to terrific effect atop the Can-like rhythms. It sounds centuries old and spit new contemporary at the same time and draws the listener in with its immediacy. This is continued into Fold 2 which is the brainchild of Richard Wileman’s rather mysterious Karda Estra which appears to be a one-man project with occasional contributers. His piece is all splintery keys, choppy guitars and thunderous JJ Burnel bass with a hint of Pure Reason Revolution’s punky take on prog rock.
Most of the music herein is vocal free although Wileman uses some rather sweet choral voices to good effect.
Jim Thirwell (Foetus, Manorexia et al) follows this with a piece that is in turns “Exorcist” soundtrack and loping rhythm not unlike contemporaries Fad Gadget or The Normal but again vocal free. As are the preceding tracks, Thirwell’s fold has a filmic, widescreen feel to it and this opening trio work perfectly together.
Kavus Torabi’s “fold” changes the vibe slightly; opening like something from Led Zeppelin 4, the open-tuned acoustics and exotic instrumentation give way to flamenco handclaps and guitars and is one of the best things on the album. It’s a well thought out piece and is most definitely “stand alone” amidst this collection. At turns it takes flight and at others stretches itself out; it’s quite astonishing.
British Theatre consist of members of Biffy Clyro’s touring band but we won’t hold that against them. Their contribution is a languid, dark piece which sits well on the album. It’s dense bass and samples suggest a more night time feel than the preceding folds and it’s the most contemporary electronic sounding track thus far. It’s also the shortest and gives way to Bob Drake’s violin led track which is the least immediate and lends a somewhat sombre air to precedings.
Weasel Walter is next up and the experimental drummer contributes a discordant and free jazz like flavour to the precedings. If Pere Ubu were all told to record a song independent of each other and stitch the parts together it might sound like this. Not very good. The drumming’s pretty neat, though.
Dominique Leon’s “fold” has a lounge announcer style voiceover a little like Public Service Broadcasting except with the sweeping textures of their material replaced with something that sounds like a school orchestra tuning up. It is, I guess, avant garde, but it’s really just unlistenable twaddle.
Appleblim save things with a nice piece of dark electro that sits so much better with the preceding tracks. I presume that some of the artists, given a blank slate have just went for it, but as mentioned, some of it doesn’t work for me.
Max Tundra keeps things moving and gliding with a walloping track that reminded me a little of Rez by Underworld in it’s multilayered electro madness.
Bic Hayes (formerly of Cardiacs and Levitation) was one of the driving forces behind this project and his own Mikrokosmos chip in with a really dark, unsettling slice of synth driven lunacy. There’s singing on this one (possibly a sample?) which sounded for a second to be Siouxsie but it’s sadly not.
The final piece on this sprawling, kaleidoscopic venture is by Craig Fortnum and is a lighter, almost 80’s style electropop track that fairly pulses with a brightness and energy that finishes the album off on a high note.
It’s a brave venture, The Exquisite Corpse Game and if you’re fan of the outre, the weird and the just plain eccentric allied to, in parts, some quite brilliant music, this is most surely worth an hour and a bit of your time. It envelopes one in parts and for what it has attempted, it’s certainly a worthwhile venture.
Artists involved in this project can be found at the following links – Khyam Allami, Richard Wileman, Karda Estra, Jim Thirwell, Kavus Torabi, British Theatre, Weasel Walter, Dominique Leon, Appleblim, Max Tundra, Mikrokosmos, Craig Fortnum,
All words by Joe Whyte. More writing by Joe on Louder Than War can be found at his author’s archive.