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Pierre Bastien - Pop

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Artist: Pierre Bastien

Album: Pop

Label: Rephlex

Review date: Jan. 27, 2006

2005 was a hell of a year for the guitar. Stoner metal saw a beefy, sweaty resurgence. From "space" to "space," fingers scraped the strings on acoustics. Tom Carter, who’s blended the sensibilities of Hendrix and Fahey for over a decade, got his most generous hearing to date. Hell, thanks to the Internet, I’m willing to bet the spread that Fahey himself creased more eardrums in ’05 than he ever did in his lifetime.

All the while, machine music, whether repped by indulgent cut-‘n’-paste digitalia or hardscrabble beat science, lay stagnant. The bravest stuff went unheard. The redundant crap was celebrated. Champions of a post-guitar soundscape were left wondering what’s next.

Whatever turns the heads, en masse, back toward the laptops and the wheels of steel, it probably won't have much to do with Pierre Bastien, who hails from a world of obscure critical theory and esoteric artifacts. But it would be cooler if it did.

Bastien, an educated Parisian with beaucoup art-world connections, built his first “musical machinery” in 1977. Since then, he’s crafted installations and collaborated with, among others, Pascal Comelade and Robert Wyatt. His basic MO: Let a homemade machine (powered by old turntable motors) do the work of playing traditional instruments (lute, koto, violin, etc...). I’ve never seen this in progress. I’m sure it’s fun to watch. It also sounds like, on record, it could be terribly sterile, an occasional left-brained indulgence for humorless pseudo-intellectuals, the sort of people who wouldn't think Thomas Truax guns for enough grants.

But this deep, eerie science-project funk sounds rich, organic and inviting, and skews closer to the clattering experimentalism of Harry Parch than to the soundtrack-y tedium Bastien’s academic pedigree would suggest. The disc divides into seven monosyllabically titled cuts. (With the exception of “Gig,” which appears near the end, they run well past the five-minute line.) But Pop abides simultaneously as a cohesive, front-to-back entity and as a breathless series of incomplete thoughts. Each piece shifts gears at least twice or thrice – only the basic, subliminal structures stay constant. It’s a city of neighborhoods.

And, against the odds and the evens alike, it can be catchy as hell, if you want to get spooked and transported. These beats won’t rock a party, but they’ll linger like symbolic dreams.

By Emerson Dameron

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