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Turzi - A

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Artist: Turzi

Album: A

Label: Kemado

Review date: Sep. 17, 2007

Every psych enthusiast can appreciate a compilation that details the major artists of an underrepresented foreign psychedelic music scene. Purchasing Turzi's A reputedly allows you to download just such a compilation, entitled Voyage: Facing the History of French Modern Psychedelic Music. With a track from Turzi's A

Unfortunately, since there is no link to the compilation accompanying the review copy of A, it's not possible to face France's psychedelic history as understood by Turzi. Regardless of where A fits in the trippy French canon, it's not at all what you'd expect from a disc so bent on self-identifying as psychedelia.

Turzi may hail from the land of Daevid Allen's expatriation, but A doesn't orbit anywhere near Planet Gong. This is obvious just from looking at the disc's artwork. The image that graces A's cover is a gaudy array of plaid clashing colors that looks like it's draped over the skeleton of the cover of Kraftwerk's Radioactivity. In the center, located right where you'd expect to see an antique stereo speaker, there's a circle containing a picture of a mountainous landscape. The tranquil scene pictured therein is obscured by the disembodied, black-and-white floating head of one Romain Turzi.

Heading a quartet known as Reich IV (named for Steven, in case you were worried), Turzi crafts songs that reference a variety of sub-genres, some that might fall under the psychedelic/experimental umbrella, others that fall perplexingly outside of it. Quite a few of the tracks on A contain a definite Kraftwerkian undertone, and we're not talking Kraftwerk's early, unreleased slabs of teutonic psych; some of this album's alliteratively titled tracks are underpinned by a foundation of robotic pop. That's not to say that there aren't krautrock churns or spacey synth flourishes, they're just organized in ways that don't quite jive the way you'd expect.

The disc's self-titled track is a brooding synth-pop introduction. This leads into "Alpes," which, with its tom-heavy tribal drumming, desert guitars and Morricone-inspired ambient choral chants, makes an odd backdrop for Turzi's lisping, near-whispered baritone vocals. This dark, Western feel and lackadaisically nasal vocal delivery carry through the rest of the album, especially on the tracks less underpinned by synths. These elements are at the forefront in "Are You Thinking About Jesus?" a track in which Turzi tells the tale of a quasi-metaphysical conversation in a club like he's dabbling in spoken-word. After some exposition that's kind of hard to make out, Turzi opines repeatedly that "Jesus has no place on the dance floor." This is true enough, and come to think of it, maybe Jesus' place on the dance floor is a hot button issue in France, if Justice are serious about that crucifix they plaster all over everything. Stateside, though, it's hard enough to keep Jesus out of legislation and public school curricula, so a meditation on his place in the club scene seems less immediately important.

The Can-inspired drum machine churn of "Acid Taste" leads the way for a straight-up electro-pop synth arpeggio. The track never gets dance-floor friendly, though, and ornaments the synthesizer with whirls of ambience and buzzsaw electronics. "Aigle" and "Atilla Blues" move deeper into krautrock territory, built around unmistakably Neu!-ish drumming.

A finishes out with "Axis of Good," a song characterized by thickly vocoded vocals that recall the silver-painted synth-pop act Rockets. (I've searched deep within myself to make sure that I didn't make that comparison just because Turzi is a French band using a vocoder, and I'm certain (or fairly certain) that the vocals on "Axis of Good" sound, objectively, like Rockets.)

As it mutates into a rock jam, replete with a few more choral chants, "Axis of Good" highlights a problem or two that pervade A. Touted as the emerging new face of a genre, it comes off as an electronically driven oddball rock album. It's unique in the way it merges sounds you usually only hear in dance music with live, reverberating instrumentation, but it never quite reaches the levels of fuzzed-out chaos or droning weirdness you'd expect. Maybe it'd make more sense with the context provided by the Voyage comp., but in a world where electronic psych music sounds like Silver Apples or Faust and trippy dance music sounds like The Happy Mondays, it's hard to know what to make of Turzi's odd synthesis.

By Matthew A. Stern

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