Roswell Radio Cult -The Fucked Up Beat

In the 1880s, in Hawaii, a Californian physician working at a hospital for lepers injected twelve girls under the age of 12 with syphilis. 

‘Beautiful oddness’ -Roswell Radio Cult

There is a quote, attributed variously to Elvis Costello, Martin Mull, Laurie Anderson and that tireless epigram machine Mr -or Ms- Apocryphal that neatly summarises the thankless task that I have set for myself. ‘Writing about music’, they all (apparently) say, ‘is like dancing about architecture’.

Whoever said it, the quote is damned accurate. Trying to express sound through words is very difficult to do accurately, near impossible to do excellently. It’s for that reason that genres, and sub-genres and fusions thereof have become so necessary.

They’re still inadequate.

In 1908, three Philadelphia researchers infected dozens of children with tuberculin at the St. Vincent’s House orphanage in Philadelphia, causing permanent blindness in some of the children and painful lesions and inflammation of the eyes in many of the others. In the study they refer to the children as “material used”

The Fucked Up Beat, a project of Eddie Palmer and Brett Zehner of New York and San Diego respectively has applied the label Experimental Schizo Noir Trip Hop, which barely covers half of it. Their latest release, Roswell Radio Cult, out now on HAZE, is a defiantly obscure soup of sounds, encompassing repeated string sweeps, samba-esque guitar and drum lines and repetitive voice samples. It is undeniably experimental, appreciably schizo, noirish as monochrome coffee and, through its downtempo fusion of nocturnal styles, unimpeachably trip hop.

One of those examples of extended listening that offers more with every return to the headphones, Roswell Radio Cult is an experience not unlike half-dozing through a series of once banned B-movies on a dodgy b&w set requiring an occasional slap just to keep going. The lo-fi sound, accompanied by a warm analogue crackle makes it feel like an artefact, something that works better on rediscovery than it does at first find.

 In 1941 Dr. William C. Black inoculated a twelve-month old baby “offered as a volunteer” with herpes. He submitted his research to The Journal of Experimental Medicine and it was rejected on ethical grounds. The editor of the Journal of Experimental Medicine, Francis Payton Rous, called the experiment “an abuse of power, an infringement of the rights of an individual, and not excusable because the illness which followed had implications for science.” It was later published in the Journal of Pediatrics. 

The work’s aesthetic extends to its cover art and track titles. Hearken:

The Terror From Beyond!/ Who Traveled Down Highways Of Space And Time 
Roswell Blues/ Weeping And Undressing While The Sirens Of Los Alamos Wailed Them Down 
Radio Cult/ Who Disappeared Into The Volcanoes Of Mexico
Flagstaff Crop Circles/ 9 11 Mothman Found Alive In Arizona Desert 
The Dark Fields Of Nevada/ Who Dreamt And Made Incarnate Gaps In Time And Space 
The Odyssey Of Flight 33/ We Build Ancient Ruins! 
Mystery Aircraft Lost In Fog Over California Canyons / Holy The Stock Market Filled With The Millions! 
Our Quiet Little Town Is Now Made Up Of Phantoms/ Now The Desert Is Lonesome For Heroes 
The Groom Lake Flatwoods Monster/ I’d Like Some Gasoline Please! 
Small Town In Texas Vanishes Overnight/ Little Green Men

It’s impressionistic, redolent of 50s sci-fi, conspiracies and the persistent romantic oddness of New Mexico. Palmer and Zehener live in opposite corners of the contiguous states, and communicate by email. Despite the not-necessarily-as-the-crow-flies nature of modern communications, it’s tempting to picture some of the spirit of NM being absorbed into their sound as it makes its cross country development.

The Fucked Up Beat -experimental, schizo, noir trip hop

The experiments included a wide array of studies, involving things like feeding radioactive food to mentally disabled children or conscientious objectors, inserting radium rods into the noses of schoolchildren, deliberately releasing radioactive chemicals over U.S. and Canadian cities, measuring the health effects of radioactive fallout from nuclear bomb tests, injecting pregnant women and babies with radioactive chemicals, and irradiating the testicles of prison inmates, amongst other things. 

Compounding Roswell Radio Cult’s beautiful oddness is the release notes. A collection of reports of cruel psychological and medical experiments, particularly on children, they make for 1700 words of uncomfortable reading. They do, however, suit the dark aesthetic of grim science fiction in which the government, the military, the scientific community are agents of malevolence, to be mistrusted and from whom you’d be advised to flee as quickly and as silently as you can.

Much information about these programs was classified and kept secret. In 1986 the United States House Committee on Energy and Commerce released a report entitled “American nuclear guinea pigs : three decades of radiation experiments on U.S. citizens”. In the 1990s Eileen Welsome’s reports for The Albuquerque Tribune prompted the Advisory Committee on Human Radiation Experiments, created by executive order of president Bill Clinton. It published results in 1995. Welsome later wrote a book called The Plutonium Files.

The text is presented without comment. Any connection between it and the record is to be inferred by the listener. This is how it should be. Roswell Radio Cult is an album of suggestion, a sound implicit rather than explicit and utterly defiant of explanation. In such cases, it’s often as helpful to put on some tap shoes for le Corbusier, or simply recommend that the reader simply listen for himself.

Roswell Radio Cult is out now on HAZE. It’s also available via Bandcamp

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Review: ZoID -Selected ZoIDworks 05-12

Some years ago, a couple of friends and I coined the term ‘a bit jazz’ to mean a heavy session. We’d use it to describe the partying habits of the bands we liked (we were very big on Primal Scream in those days), as well as some of our larger weekends. And weeks. And months for that matter. The term came from jazz musicians, rather than jazz music, the Charlie Parker whose corpse was mistaken for that of a fifty-four, rather than thirty-four, year old man.

Philistinism? Sure. But there is something in jazz music, in its rhythms and time signatures that suggest a fluidity or absence of discipline. It’s a paradox of course, it takes an awful lot of skill to sound this loose. We deluded ourselves that it took similar skill to make a Friday night last three days.

Skill is something that Daniel Jacobson has in spades. A classically trained jazz musician, he applies the form of jazz to electronic music and does so wonderfully. His new album, recorded under the alias ZoID, has just been released on the Invisible Agent label. Calling it Selected ZoIDworks 05-12 is an obvious nod to a certain well regarded twenty-odd year old album, but it almost does it a disservice. ZoID’s album has no need to lurk in the shadows of any other. It’s a perfectly balanced and wonderfully controlled blend of beats, glitches and textures on a bed of jazzy rhythms, put together with superb artistic restraint.

Opening track Aerosoul sets the standard. It’s a smooth, nocturnal jazz piece, boasting a gently snaking guitar melody. Next, the chiming, insistent Phroph brings beats to the fore. They’re crisp and satisfying but without overpowering the gentle ambient synth bed.

Acid Leaves, which features the late Bruce Morley is more rhythmically violent, lurching from acid breaks to classical guitar in what can probably be best described [by me] as a ‘space invader sound stew’. Particle Dither throws jagged but squelchy beats at a heavy synth sound. Both win.

Obelisk brings the guitar back to face off against a frantic, echoey beat that seems to swirl around it. Cember is nice and glitchy. Beats whiplash, crunch and clatter while a pulsating rhythm builds beneath them.

East Pier Early Morning is more traditionally metronomic. An ambient piece with tight beats layered on top, it sounds simple at first, but only at first. Like the rest of the album it benefits from the skilful discipline of its maker.

Jwrong begins beautifully with plaintive whine that is soon joined by jazzy drums that clatter and tumble through the rest of the track.

Bluesqueek earned double figure listens within the first few hours of my having the album. Beginning with dampened beats, like a heart that is about to break, it blends a squelchy sound with cleaner synthesiser tones in a perfectly judged mix.

The beginning of Munch is, for me, the album’s sole misstep. A burst of distorted static noise, it’s a collection of glitchy sound effects that create a sense of violence that is at odds with the rest of the album. It settles after a couple of minutes and reaches a stronger sense of purpose, letting the album finish with its signature mix of beats and ambient synths.

This album is a real joy. The odd time signatures add a pleasingly unsteady organic quality that complements the crisp artificial beats. The album’s main strength, aside from its talented maker, is that it uses jazz to contextualise its electronic elements. I’ve long had a problem with the term ‘dance music’ as a catch-all for anything electronic, not least because you can’t even dance to music like this. Jazz, with its tendencies towards experimentation and rule-breaking is a much better home. SZw05-12 shows us why. It’s ‘a bit jazz’, in a rather better sense of the word that I had it before.