Thursday, August 8, 2013

CD Odyssey Disc 539: KMFDM

The Odyssey continues with no remorse and no regret.  Kind of like a Metallica song, but different.  I’ve been at this over four years now, randomly working my way through all the music in my collection.  I’ve got at least another four years left but it as we all know, it’s the journey that counts.

Disc 539 is…. Angst
Artist: KMFDM

Year of Release: 1993

What’s up with the Cover?  A creepy, square-jawed man gropes a large breasted woman.  Meanwhile a different large breasted woman – this one much more severe – looks on with an expression of…horror?  Rage?  Frustration?  I know – angst!  That certainly makes sense given the album title.

All of KMFDM’s albums feature this angular, modernist art style by a guy named Aidan “Brute” Hughes.  I love his stuff, and it really suits KMFDM’s music, although I wouldn’t hang it on my walls.

How I Came To Know It:  My friend Patrick put me on to KMFDM within the past year.  Patrick has good taste in music, and has been the source of many a cool band for me lately.  Don’t rely on the radio haystack to find good music when there are people all around you who can point you in the right direction.

Sheila actually bought this record for me (and one other by the same band) when I hinted broadly to her that it would make a good birthday present.

How It Stacks Up:  I have two KMFDM albums, this one and it’s 1995 follow up, “Nihil.”  Of the two, I prefer “Angst” so it is number one.

Rating:  3 stars but a solid three stars.

When I was younger, and still inspired to go nightclubbing, my favourite hangout was a local place called Scandals, particularly on what they dubbed Alternative Tuesdays.  As I grew older (but still liked to go dancing) I sought out the same atmosphere at another local joint called Evolution.  In both cases, my favourite dance music was a sort of industrial electronica mix that could both shake my groove thing, and also help release some of the pointless rage and frustration that comes as part of this package of experiences we call life.  Although I didn’t know it at the time, KMFDM was very likely one of the bands I was listening to.

KMFDM is a band with members from a lot of countries that has been around for years.  According to the magic of Wikipedia (which is never wrong) I discovered the full band name was originally Kein Mehrheit Für Die Mitleid, loosely translated as "no pity for the majority” but they’ve long since just gone with letters.  Good call – that is a bit long of a band name for anything that isn’t modern indie.

The first word that comes to mind when you put “Angst” on for a listen is ‘energy.’  This album has energy to spare.  A mix of pounding beat, guitar riffs and electronica sounds.  This was the early blend of metal and electronic music, and I personally think it is also the high water mark for this style of music.  It is visceral, and pounding and it perfectly captures the sometimes empty but indefatigable pulse of the modern post-industrial experience.

Metal would later come to rely too heavily on the auditory battery of the double bass (something “Angst” mercifully eschews) and electronica would become increasingly detached, focused more on odd sound and syncopation than songs that have a defined melody (you know, that sound like music). For me, this album and Ministry’s “Psalm 69” are the sweet spot.

The opening track, “Light” is a perfect opener, mixing all those elements, along with some sexy background vocals and a guy singing about KMFDM in a sort of self-promotional way (“KMFDM, doing it again” etc.).

This apparent narcissism is reflected throughout the album, but if you pay attention you’ll see the band takes every opportunity to undercut their own star power, and while calling into question various authority figures and systems, also calls into question themselves.  On “Sucks” they sing:

“We don't have no lyrics, our message is nil
We hate all DJs, they're makin' us ill
Whatever we tell you is meant to be crap
We hate all music and especially rap”

Their message is rarely nil, but instead is often commenting on a whole host of political and social questions, often very pointedly.  They couch what they have to say in angst (there’s that word again) and dance licks, but these guys actually have a lot to say.  I suspect they don’t hate rap or most other music either.

I will say that the messages are often a little too simplistic, and tend to boil down into a “question all authority/oppose everything” kind of vibe.  I don’t think it adds a lot to the topics they raise, but at least they raise them, and give them an emotional outlet.

In fact, when dancing to this type of music I like to slip in a move where I cross my arms crossed over my head, and mimic the poor sods in Orwell’s 1984, forced to hate Goldstein at assemblies under the watchful eyes of the state.  It is the irony of participating with the crowd, and yet recognizing the participation as a reduction to individualism.  In some ways it is this same duality that makes this music work down in the guts, even as it rejects itself.

Regrettably, as great a pony this music is to ride, it only has the one trick, so a whole album of it can start to feel a bit repetitive near the end.  It doesn’t help that despite “Angst”s amazing start, the quality does go down a bit by the time you get to side two.

Still, for turning the music up loud and feeling the power, this is as good as anything in my collection.  For dancing it lets you get down into it and still has enough melody to give your limbs something to do other than shuffle (yes, that is a put-down for you, dubstep).

KMFDM is danceable, energetic and aware of its own ironic self-promotion.  A bit like disco, in that way, I suppose, except totally different.

Best tracks:  Light, A Drug Against War, Blood Evil, Sucks

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