Martin Rev is hardly a stranger to the world of experimental music. In 1970, he and his partner in crime — the late Alan Vega — formed Suicide, and, in the decades that were to follow, they relentlessly assaulted listeners’ eardrums with their bombastic brand of electropunk. The duo’s fervent resistance to authority and general inclination to subvert musical norms at any opportunity helped to lay the groundwork for both punk and synth pop. Yet, above all else, Suicide’s music was informed by its audacious sense of sonic exploration. While Vega mumbled his way through obscure lyrics, keyboardist Rev constructed intricately-layered, throbbing grooves that pulled from a wide array of sound sources, capturing a noise-driven aesthetic that emphasized texture over the typical musical requisites of melody and harmony.
As a solo artist, Rev has continued to explore new sounds and styles of music, showcasing his impressive compositional range in the process. In 2009, he even released the classically-imbued Stigmata, which featured MIDI-style chamber music — a marked departure from the edgy sonic maelstroms of Suicide. Rev’s newest LP (and first in almost ten years), Demolition 9, marks a similarly drastic transformation. It features a dizzying blend of genres, scattered throughout 34 short-lived tracks.
The album kicks off with the scintillatingly abrasive “Stickball,” which crafts a dense, distorted, feedback-driven soundscape. On subsequent tracks, such as “Into the Blue” and “Concrete,” we return to this same blaring cacophony that, realistically speaking, will deter all but the most masochistic of listeners. Fortunately, some of the album’s other offerings — e.g. “In Our Name,” “RBL” and “Creation” — take this same esoteric approach to noise and tone it down a bit. Drums begin to take on a slightly more salient role, finally giving listeners a beat to latch onto as Rev captures an industrially-charged sound that invokes memories of Broken-era Nine Inch Nails.
For fans of Rev’s more harmonious work, there are certainly remnants of the ambient, Baroque stylings that characterized Stigmata. The album is peppered with stripped, reverb-soaked orchestral etudes. Numbers such as “Vision of Mari,” “Te Amo” and “Toi” employ pizzicato strings and woodwinds to shape a gentle, playful atmosphere that is in direct contradiction with the album’s jarring noise experimentations. And, to add subtle variation to his orchestral sound, Rev colors tracks like “Warning,” “Dies Irae” and “Pieta” with more brass-dominant instrumentation. Yet, unfortunately, these arrangements feel particularly canned, playing like something from a decidedly retro videogame soundtrack.
Any efforts to definitively categorize Demolition 9 will be rendered futile, since the album really runs the gamut as far as genres are concerned. Rev never affords the listener the chance to settle in on a singular musical aesthetic, rarely placing two pieces of the same compositional style next two one another on the tracklist. This, of course, lends itself to the album’s allure. Demolition 9 plays like a series of vignettes. From the choral harmonies of “Salve” and “Requiem” to the light-hearted ‘60s pop of “My Street” and “Blayboy” to the retro funk grooves of “Never Mind” and “Inside Out,” there’s simply so much music to be unpacked here. Perhaps, some listeners will find half of the LP’s tracks intolerable; there are still over a dozen more songs to choose from, no two sounding quite the same.
However, Demolition 9’s mosaic-like musical diversity also creates its biggest problem: there is no continuity. The album haphazardly bounces from one half-baked musical idea to another. Even its longer tracks only hover around two minutes, never truly having enough time to build upon motifs and develop an immersive and memorable listening experience. And when Rev does manage to string together a series of stylistically congruous compositions — as with “Toi” and “Pieta,” which almost feel like a mini-suite — he almost always interrupts this brief continuity by inserting a track that drastically transforms the atmosphere (“It’s Time,” in this case). Simply put, Demolition 9 isn’t your typical album and should be approached accordingly. If one were to attempt to absorb the LP in one sitting, it would undoubtedly be a deeply exhausting experience that would dishearten even the most adventurous of listeners. Yet, in bite-sized portions, Demolition 9 is certainly worth the time, offering some tasty bits of sonic intrigue, crafted by a true sound pioneer.