The Dead C.
ven for the hardcore underground heads who welcome it with open eardrums, Future Artists, the first release from New Zealand’s Dead C since 2003, is somewhat immaterial. That’s not to say that the album isn’t engaging—once again the trio of Michael Morley, Robbie Yeats, and Bruce Russell have burrowed beneath yet another layer of the earth’s crust from which their improvisations boil and spill, idle and melt—but in the context of a mammoth two-decade discography, this is merely a skidmark. Where once they were a band in which applying thought towards their actions was considered blasphemous, now it sounds like they’re over-thinking.
“The AMM of Punk Rock,” is the first sign of Dead C’s decline into self-awareness. By referencing the insanely underappreciated AMM, a London avant-garde group from the mid-60’s who did the same type of structure-fucking with classical and jazz tropes as Dead C have done with rock essentials (namely guitar, bass, and drums), they lay claim to some sense of status as a band. Unfortunately the song’s tepid thirteen minutes of guttural bass rumblings, barely audible amp feedback, and percolating organ blips do little to assert such a postulation. Though perhaps that’s part of the joke (we’ve been hoodwinked before with titles like Tusk and The White House), as those base elements finally build into a sinister buzzing oscillation during the piece’s final throes.
The same can be said for “The Magicians.” As if a Dead C track that can be ingested in the length of a cigarette isn’t startling enough, this one rides a de-tuned acoustic ramble with vocals warbled into indiscernible gibberish. It’s irreverent to the degree that this may very well be the trio’s emblematic middle-finger to freak-folk. Listening over their recently released retrospective Vain, Erudite and Stupid, it’s apparent that they have had a hand in influencing a number of sub-genres through their career; be it space rock, drone rock, noise rock, or even the rougher shades of indie rock, they’ve for the most part rocked, and that legacy found in the searing, beautiful chaos of songs like “Bitcher” and “Constellation,” eludes them here. Only in the rousing crest of “Eternity” does it appear that they’ve taken to ferociously clawing at the guitars again.
Past recordings were all about tradition. Birthed among the infant Flying Nun era of jangle pop, the C filled their pockets with metal shards and gravel rather than melody and love letters. They used the same equipment, but most of their magic came from tapping into unknown territory. They were an enigmatic version of anti-music that still sounded remotely like one’s favorite band. In the liner notes of Vain, Erudite and Stupid, the man credited with indoctrinating the Western world with Dead C, Tom Lax, maintains that the group’s “best work was under the Siltbreeze aegis.” Looking back, his claim is justified. Not since the turn of the century and their break from the label they’re synonymous with, has the trio regained a foothold on the underground. Purists would even argue that they’re cheating. Moving from analog to digital (awkward laptop edits can be found in the loops of “Macoute”), focusing more on twittering electronics than clear-cut jamming, simply refusing to revel in bouts of feedback, show signs of maturity as artists, or more likely, succumbing to old age.
Still, Future Artists is steeped in unsettling ambience, and there is a certain reward in following the group into post-rock mine-shafts of minimalist dead ends or to the edge of a cliff that overlooks a chasm of nothingness. Assuredly, like many of their albums upon the time of release, this is just as misunderstood and bewildering. Lock this one up in the safety deposit box: there will be an appropriate hour in the future when such a record is needed. For now though there’s plenty from the past to chew on, even if it’s harsh as tin foil.