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Exhaust - Enregistreur

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Artist: Exhaust

Album: Enregistreur

Label: Constellation

Review date: Sep. 5, 2002

Art is Political

Enregistreur, the second release from the Montreal-based trio Exhaust (Aidan Girt, Gordon Krieger and Mike Zabitsky), provides a solid exception to the assumption that the marriage of art and politics will lead to self-righteous drivel. It is probably necessary to preface the body of this article by sharing that nothing provokes my antipathy more than artists who heedlessly lend their prominence or talent to ideological movements. While bands like Rage Against the Machine, who argue for Marxism from the pulpit of Sony, make for easy targets of my disgust, even more legit performers raise my ire. Tim Robbins should not be shoving down my throat movies about unions (even though for the most part I am adamant supporter of unions) as he does in The Cradle Will Rock. If the act of imparting upon an audience a political message causes a piece of art to sacrifice its aesthetic quality in the process, then it is not worth it, no matter how important the message is. If Tim Robbins is more brilliant as a displaced hula-hoop executive in The Hudsucker Proxy, and he is, then that is what he should do with his dramatic faculty.

Right. With that said I believe Constellation Records, on which Enregistreur is released, successfully juxtaposes ideology with gorgeous music. The home of musicians such as Le Fly Pan Am, Frankie Sparo, Sackville, and most famously Godspeed You Black Emperor! (of which Exhaust’s drummer, Girt, is also a member), Constellation seems to have created a viable movement out of its hometown in Montreal. Constellation embraces independence not for the sake of escape from the predominant culture, but to places themselves in direct conflict with it. To quote from the label’s website, “Independence is an empty pose to the extent it does not relate critically and stand in opposition to homogenising force of corporatism and culture commodification….the worst traits and tendencies of this system must be resisted, not just in spirit, but in practice.”

To achieve this, Constellation forgoes any mass distribution of their music and relies on non-chain music shops and direct order. Pretty standard behavior for most independent labels - although by default rather than dogma. Constellation goes a step further by initiating minor but important policies such as refusing to use CD jewel cases and instead providing work for local artists in designing covers, and in that, refusing to purchase paper stock CD covers from “vertically-integrated” paper corporations.

In terms of the music, the bands on Constellation are inevitably less blunt with their politics, which is fortunate. Bands on the label are mostly instrumental, experimental rock outfits. Although groups such as Godspeed intersperse capitalist-damning sound clips on Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven the brunt of the album is constituted of pure noise. Enregistreur functions under a similar premise: it is revealed to the listener that the album was created in the context of the devastating Ice Storm that struck Montreal from January 5 to January 8, 1998. In notes, we learn it was a time of reflection and contemplation for Exhaust. On the actual CD it is written that “we ran away to the woods in the winter to concentrate…our neighbourhood, like many neighbourhoods, is filling up with the nouveau riche…maybe we led them here…people sitting on fancy couches waiting for their condo’s value to rise…” As for lyrics and a more direct explanation, there are none.

Exhaust leaps into the hole created by these statements with brooding songs comprised of dark sounds and cavernous musical landscapes. While this gloomy ambiance is very present, it does not submerge the album; Enregistreur simultaneously contains a great degree of stylistic diversity. The album begins with “Gauss,” a dirge-like repetition of what can best be described as the sound of a foghorn, although is more likely a bass clarinet. “Voiceboxed” is a wonderful track that employs a driving drumbeat alongside garbled, unintelligible vocals.

Other highlights include “Ice Storm,” which confronts the topical reference point directly. A long track (more than eight minutes), “Ice Storm” starts with glitchy fuzz and snapping noises, not unlike the sound of downed telephone wires writhing around on the ground. The bass line in “Ice Storm” is remarkable, remaining barely audible but hauntingly present until it asserts itself in the second half of the song, where it regains musical consciousness along with the drumbeat. “Behind the Paint Factory” also does an excellent job of simulating sounds from the surrounding world. The fury of the industrial world builds on itself as the clear sounds of strings and horns give way to rougher sounding drums. The ominously titled “My Country is Winter” is refreshingly anomalous, and tends more towards trip-hop than the rest of the songs on Enregistreur.

One still may be wondering how the music on Enregistreur reflects the theme of encroachment and gentrification of which the band alludes to in the framework of the Ice Storm. This is perfectly valid. If one was not privy to the multitudes of text provided by Exhaust and Constellation, how would the music alone make itself known to be political? Perhaps escaping the issue, I think it would be an exercise in equivocation to try to make a direct and convoluted correlation. Asserting that the music on Enregistreur inspires a confrontational (yet beautiful) mood is the best I can do. Perhaps this is why it works so well – nothing is imposed upon the listener. In this sense Exhaust creates a graceful blend of ideology and stimulating art.

By Andy Urban

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