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At what point does experimental music cross the line into listener-unfriendly self-indulgence? The Red Fetish’s new double album, a project from Alejandro Castano that oscillates wildly between glitchy electro-pop, black metal, and classical music, begs the question.
The record is separated into two parts—the rock-leaning Temporal Joke Pt. 1 and the ambient Temporal Joke Pt. 2—which helps create a sense of concision, but that doesn’t mitigate the fact that the album is, in total, about two hours long. Castano’s complex, multilayered message appears to touch on the paradoxical inclinations of virtue and sin, but the mixed quality of the record prevents it from achieving its intended impact.
Nearly all of the release’s essential moments occur during Temporal Joke Pt. 2, which, with its hushed passages of piano and marimbas, feels like a lost film score. Many of these sequences, like the anxious, staccato “Kindness/Avarice” and the dissonant, Bartókian “Patience/Wrath” manage to be both intricate and cinematic, despite only featuring these two instruments. Temporal Joke Pt. 2’s main weak spot lies in its lack of variety; it becomes hard to tell, after a while, where one song ends and the next one begins. But on the whole, it’s solid classical music, something engrossing enough to listen to intently but not busy enough to pose a distraction if it were on in the background.
Temporal Joke Pt. 1, on the other hand, is a noise-rock mess. Many of the tracks here, like opener “Limbo,” suffer from an atonal shapelessness. It’s as if Castano wanted every instrument in the spotlight, rather than just one or two, amounting to an undynamic blob of cacophonous sound that’s difficult to listen to at times. If there’s anything that saves this side, it’s Kris Kagei’s warm, soulful vocals, which, on the fiery “Greed,” evoke an early Annie Clark. But the effect of Kagei’s pipes are diluted by Castano’s rambling, incoherent lyrics, which are by turns puzzlingly archaic—“There were rats from the sewers, and birds from the night/Stirring up from their shadows, rising from the ground/To beckon the innocent, or wallow in spite”—and jarringly modern—“You will burn stars through the aspera/Hear his voice through SMS.”
In many ways, Castano’s decision to split his newest Red Fetish album into two separate records does the listener a favor, considering that one side is significantly better than the other. Taken on the whole, though, Temporal Joke is a slog of a journey, a piece of art that probably means something to its creator. But to others, it’ll probably be impenetrable.
The Red Fetish plays Green Island on Jan. 23 and 31.