Experimental but rarely exciting
One of the greatest draws of experimental music is that it has loosened musicians from the traditional confines of rhythm and melody. Noise and Drone music has often taken this freedom to the extreme, producing varying levels of results in the process. Often the best music comes from a deep understanding of the subversion of these elements, or a twisting of how they can be interpreted. Yet it’s not wholly uncommon for experimental musicians to fall into the trap of annihilating notions of traditional song structure only to end up creating a teeming mass of atmosphere without hook or drive. Sadly, this issue plagues Body/Head’s latest record The Switch.
Body/Head have often prided themselves on being a largely improvisational drone group and keeping that in mind, their execution of the record is impressive. However, from a compositional standpoint, many of the tracks can be found lacking in drive and structure. Tracks like “Last Time” and “You Don’t Need” both manage to play with extremely exciting and unique soundscapes in their instrumentation and the technical proficiency of the band members is impossible to deny. Sadly, much like modern-day records from Eminem, technical complexity is not enough to save this record from being boring.
The impressive instrumentation hangs low in the air with no sense of dynamics, something that the best drone bands always seem to do so well. In fact, many of the best drone albums play cousin to either post-rock or doom metal, in that they end up heavily rhythm or melody driven to impart a sense of emotional urgency. Even the heavier tracks on this record come up lacking. “Change My Brain” is a satisfying cacophony of strings and amplifier feedback that grows into nasal chants and high pitched whirrs of static that do lend a sense of menace to the song, but even then, the track comes up short and the listener is left slightly uncomfortable, but mostly dissatisfied. By the time “Reverse Hard” cooly closes out the album, many listeners will have found themselves deep in the bowels of Twitter or Instagram, having thoroughly checked out of the record.
There are lessons to be imparted by the overly ambitious bands of experimental. While Body/Head is technically impressive, and their ability to compose a record such as this through improvisation is impressive, it is not enough to save the record from feeling moot. Body/Head clearly is oozing with skill and potential honed over years of improvisational playing. The Switch has its moments, but most of them point toward the conclusion that, were this album composed over a longer period, and with a greater emphasis on emotional impact and drive, it would have been a standout in the genre. Sadly, it only ends up being lost in the drone.