Consider two views of technology. 1950s science fiction celebrates the first: new materials, space travel and super computers will rationalize the organization of society, it says, and deliver us from want and suffering. The second is embodied by the tireless tinkering of early twentieth-century inventor George Washington Carver
, who developed 300 uses for the peanut. We've got a lot of peanuts around here, this view says; let's see if we can do something useful with them.
Electropolis, the long-playing debut by a Minneapolis collective of the same name, documents a band with technology very much on its mind. But these players don't quite know which technological model they espouse. On the one hand, the attractive funk of percussionist Steve Roehm and bassist Michael O'Brien, overlaid with machine-sounding loping melodic lines, recalls brave new world Brian Eno with David Bowie. Technology can play a role in creating the perfect sound, beyond the capacity of organic and analogue materials.
On the other hand, Electropolis prominently advertises "no overdubs or guitars." The alacrity with which they make Michael Ferrier's plugged-in "electrosax" and Kelly Rossum's "electrumpet" sound like an old Moog (at the opening of "Blue Omni ), electric guitar (on "Sailing the Flat Earth ), a whole reeds section (on "Lead Soldiers and "Bat Soup ), or even birds (on "Dagobah ), seems to say, "We've got a saxophone and a trumpet here, but we can make any sound we want."
"No overdubs" is an aesthetic and ideological issue: it means you can reproduce this live; fine. But no guitars? Why not, given the band's obvious desire to produce guitar-like sounds? That makes sense if you're George Washington Carver isolated in Alabama with nothing but peanuts, but don't they have any good guitarists up there in Minneapolis?
So the band doesn't get the story straight. Maybe that's part of its appeal. Are these futuristic visionaries or tinkering crackpots? Are they being ironic about one or both of those poses? Electropolis is on balance a very good record, sounding a little like Joshua Redman's Elastic Band, a little bit more like Ronald Shannon Jackson's Decoding Society, and sometimes a whole lot like Romeo Void (which had an electronically distorted sax, too). And history teaches us that we ignore maverick musicians from Minnesota at our peril.
Personnel: Kelly Rossum: electrumpet; Michael Ferrier: electrosax; Michael O'Brien: bass; Steve Roehm: percussives.