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Cover Art Doldrums
Desk Trickery
[Kranky]
Rating: 8.7

The question is whether psychedelia has become categorically retrospective; like modernism in literature, art and architechture, like fusion in jazz, what emerged as a genre term has evolved into a period- term. The style becomes a function of the times in which it was prevalent: we hear the style and think of the era, and then we proceed to criticize the artists for retrogression and irony.

The trend is unfortunate. Where there still flowers abuse of entheogens, the potential for psychedelic music still exists. This is the great primitivism embedded in psychedelia: it's always potentially participatory. These days, you can get your requisite mindfucks anywhere-– leaf through the glossy pages of "The Wire," it's all out there: electronic, free jazz, new classical, drone. But the psychedelic ideally invites participation, while the more abstract experimental music is crafted for reception and contemplation.

Doldrums' music is psychedelic and is sound enough to withstand all the cheap cracks about beads and flowers in the barrels of police rifles. Zappa already perfected the art of bashing hippies on We're Only in It for the Money back in 1968, so you'd have to work really hard to out- jeer modern music's master satirist. Regardless, Desk Trickery sweats righteousness. The music is curvaceous and sloppy, slurring in wonder and falling all over itself like it polished off a quarter- bag of mushrooms about two hours before you hit the play button.

Desk Trickery's music consists of Bill Kellum and Justin Chearno's heavily treated guitars and Matt Kellum's doubled drum tracks. And the Doldrum's expert use of computer editing is one of the ways in which the band seems to elude the retro tag; we don't need the illusion of an improv jam session and drum circle to hear the exploratory fascination the players seem to have with their own music. The whole album smacks of a ludicrous zeal that is simply infectious. It's like that weird cool rock you found in the woods while tripping-- you just want to show it to everyone "because it's just so fucked- up looking, man!"

The tracks on Desk Trickery all segue with only the slightest regard for continuity. The squealing forty- five second sizzle of "Office Scene" gives way to "Sparkling Deadheadz" which lays James Plotkin- like treated guitar lines over mechanized flourishes reminiscent of the great Derek Bailey over fervent jazz- rock drumming. The guitars in "Deadheadz" begin to drone like cellos as the track progresses and falls apart into jagged Flying Saucer Attack noise. The third tune, "Fritland," recalls the experimental sonic collage of the Dead's completely overlooked MIDI-jams of Infrared Roses. If you actually have ingested something, my guess is that the walls are breathing now.

"Grill Out Time" is the first track with vocals: a sparse frontier Western, all twangy guitars and scraping strings, with tumbleweed percussions rolling steadily underfoot without progression. Reverberating arachnid guitar lines blissfully undo this scene and are summarily clipped at the outset of the fifth track, "Free Festival of the Stonebridge." The song is a poppy dream- rock tune a la Galaxie 500 which morphs over 13 minutes into some kind of evil music box sound and eventually ends up as a dissonant electric sitar- like raga.

"Who Shot J.R.?" is spacious and creepy, certainly the album's darkest track, but probably also the quietest. The tone is one of foreboding or, worse, a restrained malevolence which serves as a frightening undercurrent to the ecstatic joy of the album's first half. The total degeneration into whispered noise is checked by the advent of the last track, "Godspeed You Young Actress!"-- a nod to labelmates, Godspeed You Black Emperor in title if not in sound. The last song is revved up guitar rock at its most unabashed and, like great acid- rock album closers of the past, "Godspeed" rings with triumph, as if sloppy whirring guitar rock had just been discovered by the Doldrums themselves on accident. It's the perfect antidote for Desk Trickery's eerie penultimate track.

Desk Trickery eschews those stabs at profundity that make too much head music transparent and dull. The album makes no attempts to veil the music's limitations; in fact, the album itself is the sound of the album being constructed. You can hear the decision- making process unfolding, the wrong turns and the mistakes as well those moments where the band seems to pick up the trail again. As freaky as the sound gets, the human element is always present. You don't need drugs to dig Doldrums, the music will feed your head 'till its full.

-Brent S. Sirota

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RATING KEY
10.0: Indispensable, classic
9.5-9.9: Spectacular
9.0-9.4: Amazing
8.5-8.9: Exceptional; will likely rank among writer's top ten albums of the year
8.0-8.4: Very good
7.5-7.9: Above average; enjoyable
7.0-7.4: Not brilliant, but nice enough
6.0-6.9: Has its moments, but isn't strong
5.0-5.9: Mediocre; not good, but not awful
4.0-4.9: Just below average; bad outweighs good by just a little bit
3.0-3.9: Definitely below average, but a few redeeming qualities
2.0-2.9: Heard worse, but still pretty bad
1.0-1.9: Awful; not a single pleasant track
0.0-0.9: Breaks new ground for terrible
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