[sic] Magazine

Xordox – Neospection

Like time, musical tastes often go in cycles. The synthetic sounds that were so cool in the 80s became passe under the grinding guitars of grunge, the biting lyricism of Brit pop, the beat-heavy sounds of rap, and the drone of shoegaze. However, the programmed beats and synthesizer bleeps of those cocaine years are once again becoming all the rage.

As proof of this, consider bands such as Carpenter Brut, Grimes, and an endless array of revival artists. Even the originator of the synthesizer soundtrack, John Carpenter, got into the business with a pair of (mostly) great albums.

Into this fray steps J.G. Thirlwell, a musical legend in the right circles. Since the early 80s, Thirlwell has been making some of the boldest and most diverse experimental rock music. His early work under various Foetus-related names (Scraping Foetus Off The Wheel, You’ve Got Foetus On Your Breath, Foetus Inc. etc) brought a sense of humor, fun, and demented Burroughs-level lyrical imagery.

By working under the radar in a one-man-band manner, Thirlwell has fused New Wave, Bungle-style pop, raging industrial, and even swing music into an unforgettable blend. Anyone who is interested in his work needs to hear ‘Wash It All Off’, a rampaging song with an incredible unofficial video on YouTube that has to be seen and heard to be believed.

Truly, any songwriter that comes up with the phrase “supercalifragilisticsadomasochism” is a special person indeed. If you watch that video and don’t run away as fast as you can, you may be a lifelong Thirlwell fan.

Time For Experimentation

After his (only) major label album Gash came and went without being a huge success (despite its consistent musical excellence), Thirlwell took some time off, dried up from his many addictions, tried out some non-rock experimental work, and came back as Foetus for the excellent Flow. This album was the last of the old-school industrial style. His most recent work in rock music has been a little gentler and integrated more symphonic textures.

That change-up came naturally, as his work as Steroid Maximus and Manorexia was more obtuse, experimental, and difficult. The albums released under those monikers were mostly instrumental nature and showed an artist working to expand on his style and try different approaches. And with Xordox, we have something that breaks entirely from his past repertoire and stakes an interesting claim in a different genre.

The Seeds Of The Change

While Thirlwell was no stranger to synthesized sounds, the all synthetic approach here will be shocking to long-time fans. Those expecting a return to Foetus-type aggression will be disappointed. Everything flows so smoothly here, with a lot of arpeggios ranging up and down the scale to create a pleasant and often foreboding style. Listening to this album in headphones brings to mind scenes of rogue cops running through alleyways, desperately chasing degenerate criminals with nothing to lose all while Jackie Chan leaps through the air giving a smile and a thumbs up to his satisfied fans.

Whoa, let’s pull back a bit from that wild image and ask ourselves: what could have prompted this change?

Let’s go back to my brief mention of John Carpenter for a moment. That comparison wasn’t a fleeting connection because a) this music sounds a lot like his best horror movie films and b) Thirlwell created a remix for Carpenter’s first album, Themes. Perhaps working in this synthetic realm inspired him to give this suddenly popular genre his best college try.

However, Thirlwell is no stranger to creating cinematic work. His side projects were mostly attempts to create soundtracks to movies that did not exist. However, his most extensive work in this field was his score to the cartoon mega hit The Venture Brothers.

Is It Any Good?

With all that said, does it hold up as strong music or is it a failed experiment? Frankly, there’s a bit truth to both stances. The compositions here seem fairly strong and are definitely to my taste. As someone who binges on Carpenter soundtracks while writing, this hit the spot. Thirlwell really nails the style here and creates a swirling album that dances beautifully through a pair of headphones.

However, there is a slight sense that the new style and the medium of its creation may have gotten away from Thirlwell a bit. For example, it sometimes lacks his trademark attention to detail and skills at creating unique textures out of simple harmonic and melodic transitions and inversions. It also lacks his unique ability to combine divergent styles into a homogeneous presentation.

Simply put, it sounds more automatic than dynamic, a bit of a race-to-the-finish in parts that is uniquely insistent and monochromatic when compared to his normal style. These complaints don’t mean that this isn’t worth a try. Even non-Thirlwell fans are likely to get a kick out of this album. In fact, it’s possible that those who cringe at his Foetus work may actually dig in and find a lot to love here.

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