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Mandarin Movie - Mandarin Movie

  by Dominic B. Simpson

published: 24 / 7 / 2005

Mandarin Movie - Mandarin Movie
Label: Aesthetics
Format: CD


Atmospheric, experimental debut album from Mandarin Movie, the project of Rob Mazurek, a co-founder of the Chicago Underground Orchestra and who has previously worked with Stereolab, Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Tortoise and Royal Trux

Mandarin Movie is essentially the alias of one Rob Mazurek, a co-founder of the Chicago Underground Orchestra and experimental jazz group Isotope 217. Previously something of a mover and shaker in the windy city, his native hometown, he’s appeared on records by the likes of Stereolab, Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Tortoise, Royal Trux et.al., as well as appearing on Jim O’Rourke’s label Moikai and other labels such as Delmark, Mego (Fennesz), and Thrill Jockey (Tortoise and like-minded bands). He’s also a painter and multi-media artist who currently spends most of his time now residing in the Amazon rain forest in Brazil near the country’s capital Brasilia, rather than Chicago. On this self-titled record, he’s joined on guitar by Alan Licht, a veteran whose played with Sonic Youth and Arto Lindsay (originally from NYC No-Wave outfit DNA), bassist Mat Lux (whose toured with Smog), and other musicians (including appearances by members of Wilco and Tortoise) to carve a kind of free-jazz and electronics aesthetic that is often punishingly loud and heavy going. Though the principal mover behind Mandarin Movie, Mazurek keeps himself very much to the back, playing various electronic sounds, the cornet, and the ‘electric eel’ (your guess is as good as mine). Mandarin Movie have found their natural environment on the Portland, Oregon label Aesthetics, an experimental label that has put out the likes of Hood, Icebreaker, Pulseprogramming, and Windsor For The Derby. It’s clear from that the start that is the kind of release that could only be appreciated by an open-minded label, as this self-titled LP can often be brutal, abrasive stuff. Anyone looking for ‘tunes’ or ‘licks’ will be severely disappointed. It is, however, a rewarding listen if you last the stretch. Though the LP defiantly operates its own space, there are a number of antecedents: the meltdown jazz-punk of James Chance & The Contortions; the screeching, claustrophobic noise and urgent jilty paranoia of Mars; the primitive, dissonant detuned experiments of fellow New Yorkers Teenage Jesus & The Jerks, Glenn Branca, Swans and (especially early) Sonic Youth; the proto-industrial experiments of Einstürzende Neubauten and Throbbing Gristle; the freakouts of Krautrock legends Can; and more recent noise acts like Lightning Bolt and the Boredoms, who push music to it’s very limit. The album begins with ‘Orange’ and the sound of a two or three trombones holding down lengthy notes, before the band freaks out with some freeform drum playing and atonal guitar scratches, underneath which can be discerned the sound of various electronics. 'The Green Giraffe', meanwhile, begins as an oasis of calm, propulsed along by a wonderfully echoing drum motif and treated guitars, before half way through it turns apropos of nothing into a heavy metal monster of Sabbath proportions (not that there’s any discernable Ozzy-esque lyrics – in fact, there’s no lyrics at all). The heavy noise continues on the two-part brutal slab 'Black Goat', in which an out of control guitar vies with what sounds like a sandpaper machine against a backdrop of more free-form drums and crashing trumpets. Just when it seems like the dense guitar onslaught is set to reach sludge-rock proportions, however, ‘The Ghost Ship Is Sinking’ suddenly reveals another side to the band: a beautiful, noir-twinged piece led by an evocative trumpet melody, atmospheric brushes, and echoing guitar delay. The soundtrack to neon urban back streets and smokey jazz bars, it’s stunning, evocative stuff, which the band make sure not to stretch out so that the listener might be lulled too much into a soporific state of mind; instead. We’re pretty soon back at some serious jazz improv with 'A Very Modern Camera' (again in two parts), in which there’s some serious horn improvisation going on amidst a pulsating sea of crashing drums and fuzz. It’s the kind of scorched freak-out that brings to mind The Stooges’ '1970' on the 'Funhouse' album, with Iggy Pop’s drugged-out wailing set against Steve MacKay’s screeching saxophone. It’s on the final track that Mandarin Movie seems to break free from any kind of convention at all. On 'The Highest Building in the World', they’re trajectory orbits a more distant star; if anything, it sounds like the proto-industrial experiments of the aforementioned industrial bands than any jazz trumpeter you’d care to name. Over some thirteen and a half minutes, what sounds like various industrial machine noises vies for space against the sound of crashing cymbals. A kind of dense, condensed version of Lou Reed’s 'Metal Machine Music' it makes for an uncompromising ending to an uncompromising album. As the song progresses, there’s an echo of 'Funhouse' once again, but this time with that album’s anarchic closer, the screaming nightmare blues jam 'LA Blues'. Dip in at your peril, but for those who are willing to last the course there’s some reward to be had. The casual listener, though, may find this seriously harsh on the ears. Someone – it may be a member of the band or it may be a record reviewer - has described this album as “Sun Ra influenced by modern electronic programming/recording collaborating with Slayer while visiting Pita and the Mego crew in present day Austria”. I’ll second that.

Track Listing:-
1 Orange
2 The Green Giraffe
3 Black Goat (Part One)
4 Black Goat (Part Two)
5 The Ghost Ship Is Sinking
6 Peking Duck With Steam Dumpling
7 A Very Modern Camera (Part One)
8 A Very Modern Camera (Part Two)
9 Ghost Ships Don't Sink
10 The Highest Building In The World

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