Yek Koo, ‘Love Song for The Dead C’
Earlier this month, The Dead C released Armed Courage, the New Zealand trio’s fourth release on the Brooklyn-based Ba Da Bing imprint (and their umpteenth in a decades-long career that began in 1987). Upon release, the LP was almost universally acclaimed in the online press as the trio’s best work since Tusk, their final album for Tom Lax’s Siltbreeze label. And it’s true – the two side-long tracks present a reinvigorated Dead C sound, with slimy guitars oozing freely over disintegrating drums, half-buried vocals and a general sense of urgency.
The recent release of Armed Courage led me to think that it’s probably worth re-investigating the band’s impact on the current generation of young underground artists. Michael Morley, Bruce Russell and Robbie Yeats as a unit are almost an anomaly: virtually ignored in their own country yet worshipped by pockets of tuned-in heads around the globe, producing music that is more about playing with sound than it is about assembling a proper series of harmonically-sane songs, and barely playing live due to the fact that all three members hold down serious day jobs. As a matter of fact, in a recent documentary Russell’s daughter filmed about her father, 27 Minutes With Mr. Noisy, the man himself reveals that he’s en route to obtaining a doctorate – serious business for someone who’s been churning out thick pools of guitar muck through a busted amplifier for the past two-and-a-half decades. The Dead C are legend, and their oeuvre is the perfect fodder for those whose interests lie outside of anything resembling traditional pop tropes.
Metal Rouge produce what they describe as “punk, in the spiritual sense of the term.” The duo of Andrew Scott and Helga Fassonaki met and formed in New Zealand, yet they hail from American shores. In my eyes, they are aligned in musical philosophy with The Dead C in that – as Fassonaki explained in an interview with the Decayke blog – they “are always inviting free expression and spontaneity into every rhythm, non-rhythm, concept and structure.” Theirs is a truly free music that utilizes the tools of punk rock, yet doesn’t strive to unfold in a way that is aligned with established notions typically assigned to rock music (e.g., meter, melody, chord, verse, etc.). In the Decayke interview, Fassonaki goes on to explain that the music she produces on her own as Yek Koo is derived in a similar nature, yet is slightly divergent from the Metal Rouge approach in that a preconceived concept is usually established prior to the commencement of the music-making.
To say that Fassonaki isn’t afraid to demonstrate the influence of The Dead C on her own music is a tremendous understatement. One needn’t look further than the title of the album which I am reviewing for evidence of her admiration for the out-rock legends. In addition, this LP is the culmination of an art installation in which – along with the presentation of a series of art pieces, photos and videos – Fassonaki transformed a gallery space into a simulacrum of the Empire Tavern, the Dunedin bar in which Morley, Russell and Yeats (among other New Zealand luminaries) regularly performed. A three-day series of musical performances was held, featuring Yek Koo, Metal Rouge, and other artists who draw influence from the music of The Dead C. For her performance, Fassonaki played this album in its entirety.
The music of Yek Koo is complex in nature in that it’s highly-textured, with numerous fragments woven together: guitars, drums and Fassonaki’s voice all seem to collide and melt into each other, like particles in an accelerator. There is both a sense of randomness and of structure within each of her compositions. Songs leap into form, then slowly tumble into a loose pile, only to reassemble themselves once again. There’s a raw beauty to this approach, such that only through deep listening is one able to glean the hidden truth behind each piece of music. The fact that Love Song for the Dead C is book-ended with an actual Persian love song (one version is sung in Farsi, the other in English) enhances the poignancy of the rest of the material in between. In my opinion, the influence of The Dead C on Fassonaki’s work is simply that: an influence. The true artistry demonstrated in her work is that her own voice, her own philosophy, her own methods shine through. Her music is her own, and it’s brilliant.