The Eternals - High Anxiety EP
There’s some severely warped music heads out there, and The Eternals are one of them: a trio from Chicago who mix up dub, funk, electro, pop and ragga chanting in all kinds of mysterious ways, with members previously spending time in Tortoise (who they’ve also toured with), and the less well known Trenchmouth, an equally eclectic outfit from the early 90’s who mixed up similar influences but with more guitar influences to the fore. The Eternals – Damon Lock on vocals, Wayne Montana on bass, keyboards and guitar, and drummer Dan Fliegel - take the groove of that previous outfit and throw all kinds of anarchic samples on top, labelling their post-modern sound “rawar”.
This extended release is a remix of their previous album, 'Rawar Style' – the band’s second, and first for the Aesthetics label (with their previous, self-titled release distributed by the Southern Records-affiliated DeSoto). That’s album’s release was way back in 2003, with the subsequent three years taken up by touring (including Japan, Europe and the All Tomorrow’s Parties festival in the U.K). It’s a testament to their eclectic nature that they’ve been able to appear alongside the diverse likes of Smog, Stereolab, Beans, Fugazi, labelmates Pulseprogramming and Hood, and the aforementioned Tortoise, and make it all seem natural; the rest of the time, no doubt, will have been spent with long gestation periods working on new material, with a new album out this year.
So does this remix album work as a good pointer towards both their last album and the future ahead? Yes, although it doesn’t always succeed. The album opens with a remix of “Hi Anxiety” by A Grape Dope, aka associate John Herndon, a similarly eclectic musician whose 'Missing Dragons' EP mixes post-rock with electronics and guests from the Anticon stable. His remix utilises funeral bells that appear alongside samples of Eternals singer Damon Lock’s pronouncements that “anxiety is getting me nowhere and it’s fucking up my days”. Meanwhile, we have “Black Nuclear Power Bonus Beats”, an album track reworked and renamed by Prefuse 73 - Scott Heron to his Mum, and a Warp Records signing who specialises in experimental hip hop textures that he’s refined with collaborations with Four Tet and members of TV On The Radio. Heron’s remix is such a radical departure, using just cut ups from Lock’s vocals and little else, that it’s difficult to discern even which track it is that’s being remixed (mostly likely the album’s closer, “Gussy Up Yourself”), but it’s certainly a fine effort for all that.
The album’s standout, though, comes not from a guest, but from an Eternals remix of their own – “Silhouette”, in which some fantastic Spanish guitar dominates with some beautiful vocal textures from Lock and female guest Cecily Langford, all set against the backdrop of some spiralling, echoing percussion which wouldn’t be out of place on an Autechre record. Quite why the words “Saddam, Saddam” are repeated again and again is anyone’s guess, but the tracks smoky, jazzy feel is superb, and acts as a couterpoint to the rest of the album’s minimalist beats – the remix album’s sore point. This is made all the more apparent on Exercise Tiger’s remix of “High Anxiety” in which the vocals are once again cut-up against bare beats and a Hammond organ motif, with the result that the listener is left with little to focus on. Birthmark’s treatment of the same track fares better, with a straight sample of the vocals in contrast set against some fantastically driving drums.
There’s also “Billions of People”, an exclusive new track that explores the echoing dub of Lee Scratch Perry to it’s extreme, employing spiralling use of reverb and space, in which Loke castigates a media “sick of the death and it’s endless appeal”.
It reminds me of the New Age traveller soundsystems that dominated in the mid 90’s, before the Criminal Justice Bill put paid to free parties in London’s huge parks and beyond in the countryside, with the intoxicating music and surrounding pungent aroma drawing you into the packed tents. Together with the aforementioned “Silhouette”, it’s reason enough to buy this interesting reworked album; this mini album’s erratic nature, however, prevents it from truly striking out onto it’s own and becoming a classic. Still, this will do nicely before the band’s next miesterwork.