By: Eric Liebetrau
The members of Sound Tribe Sector 9 have always proudly proclaimed their political, social and cultural consciousness and activism, but their newest album is probably their most direct embodiment of that philosophy. A natural extension of Artifact, the band's mercurial 2005 album, Peaceblaster echoes and expands upon the darker moments of the former, creating a mood of introspective cynicism that reflects our current political and cultural atmosphere.
"America is this beautiful, incredible place, but it has a dark underbelly," says bassist David Murphy on the STS9 website. "And even on Peaceblaster's most ethereal songs, there's a darkness that reflects what's going on in society - it ain't all bad, but it ain't all good." It's those moments of ethereal beauty, the well-placed flourishes of optimism, that lend Peaceblaster (released July 8 on 1320 Records) a sense of equilibrium that Artifact - though an arresting album in its own right - lacked.
Along with Murphy, guitarist Hunter Brown, drummer Zach Velmer, percussionist Jeffree Lerner and keyboardist David Phipps have assembled a rangy but coherent collection of post-rock–influenced electronica (Tortoise fans should enjoy this album, especially the second half). The companion pieces "Peaceblaster '68" and "Peaceblaster '08" open the album, setting an explosively foreboding tone similar to MMW's End of the World Party (Just in Case). "Music measures the temperature of the people," says Brown, echoing Murphy's statement. "Consumerism and the corporate media have taken us all down the path of cynicism, apathy and nihilism. If the message on the new record is anything, it's to blast that shit." The twin opening tracks do just that, pulsing with the barely contained energy of a DJ Harry track featuring ragged tuba accents that perfectly complement the beat.
"Metameme," one of the album's highlights, opens with a slurred, hazy loop below the melody - a favorite tool of STS9 - and the song cycles through a few separate sections before resolving into "Shock Doctrine," a good fit for a horror or alien sci-fi soundtrack. Laced with a variety of veiled echo effects in the background, the song seemingly ends around the three-minute mark, but quickly changes directions as the final two minutes reverberate with some truly ghostly, disembodied human voices.
After the intense first four tracks, "The Spectacle" is a refreshing dawn, lightening the previously heavy mood and ushering in the next movement. "Regeneration," two broadcast samples looped over each other, is a short, stark denunciation of consumerism and media saturation, and "Beyond Right Now" is driven by a simple, repeating guitar figure, displaying elements of Radiohead's electronics-augmented rock.
"Hidden Hand, Hidden Fast" is probably the most intriguing song on Peaceblaster. If STS9 had been around to contribute to the soundtrack for The NeverEnding Story, this may have been the result. The opening synth swell bears a striking resemblance to the accompaniment to Atreyu's journey through the Swamps of Sadness, and the bulk of the track, ripe for sampling by any number of avant-garde rappers, would have been the perfect musical backing for Bastian's climactic ride on Falkor across Fantasia.
Sandwiched by two minutes of lackluster material on either side, the middle section of "Empires" reflects the initial energy of the "Peaceblaster" tracks, tying the second half of the album back to the first. The last few songs - "The New Soma," "Oh Little Brain," "Late for Work," "Squishface" - are somewhat unremarkable, noteworthy mainly for their indebtedness to post-rockers like Tortoise, Mogwai and late-era Talk Talk. As such, they should appeal to a specific brand of electronic-music fan.
Though top-heavy, Peaceblaster is a timely instrumental statement in mood and tone, a treat for STS9 fans and a suitable entrée to the band for more open-minded, experimental indie fans. In conjunction with the album's release, the band has launched www.peaceblaster.com, which they describe as "an informational website where fans will find copies of the Bill of Rights, speeches by Dwight Eisenhower and Martin Luther King, and links to alternative media outlets."
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