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No less a thinker than Bruce Dickinson once said that he’d like his favorite music to be remembered as a series of fragments—a nimble-fingered guitar solo here, a thunderous drumbeat there, and maybe a particularly poetic narrative about some insidious, creeping evil to top it all off. And for once, the Iron Maiden frontman was making some blessedly clear-eyed sense. The idea, of course, is that the heavy-metal ideal is just as elusive as any other: Like the sun, it’s something we’re allowed to peek at only for a second; staring directly at the whole many-splendored, bright-beautied thing just can’t be done. Thus there has never been, and there never will be, a Purple Zeppelin Sabbath—or even, as Dickinson himself might have it, a Blue Vanilla Maiden.
That’s exactly why albums that try to mix the best of this with the best of that tend to sound a bit less than great. Give a listen to just about any Beatles-Beach Boys-Byrds-emulating power-pop effort for proof: See? You’ve gotta pick and choose your poisons, ’cause great tastes don’t always taste great together. Or—I’m talking to you, Velvet Crush—you’ve gotta throw great taste to the wind and cause a little fragmentation of your own. After all, great rock music has always been about killing yr. idols: The Stones didn’t worship the songs of Delta bluesmen so much as ruthlessly sacrifice them on the altar of the great god Chaos. And the same could be said of the Velvets and Brill Building pop, or of the Pistols and ’50s rock ‘n’ roll.
Or, for that matter, of Add N to (X)’s new Loud Like Nature and just about anything from the past 20 years of popular musical culture. This is the kind of album that explodes in your head like a grenade, throwing bits and pieces of music history hither and yon and leaving you to scrape your thoughts and impressions off the walls and ceiling for weeks afterward. (Why, I discovered a half-formed idea on “Party Bag” in a tennis shoe just yesterday.) The lads and lass of Add N to (X) weren’t kidding when they said that their artistic aim is “abbreviating music into intensity,” and trying to get your mind around the crshs., bms., and bngs. of Loud Like Nature is often harder than Lou Ferrigno’s biceps. But sometimes it really is true that only difficult things are worth doing. So here, in no particular order, are 10 reasons to check out Add N to (X)’s definitely worthwhile latest:
1. For a long time I avoided Add N to (X) because, judging solely by the group’s equation of a name, I suspected it of playing math rock. And I shy away from anything having to do with mathematics because, as I learned a long time ago, it makes my brain hurt. Add N to (X) makes my brain hurt, too. But unlike mathematics, you can actually dance to it.
2. You might expect a London trio enamored of vintage synthesizers, theremins, and the like to adopt a sterile, academic approach to electronic music. Wrong. Ann Shenton, Barry Smith, and Steven Claydon opt for Oi!-flavored mayhem. The deranged “Monster Mash” vocals, sloppy sing-along chorus, and ass-shaking groove that make “Sheez Mine” a thing of batty beauty could never have been produced by the humorless postrockers in Tortoise.
3. If you like the Beastie Boys but think they’ve gotten a mite long in the gold tooth, you owe it to yourself to check out “Up the Punks.” With an ultracool drumbeat, some Yusef Lateef-on-reefer flute, and plenty of Switched On synths, this song’s smoother than the Baby Jesus’ ass. The liner notes swear that “Up the Punks” contains elements from Hal David and Burt Bacharach’s “Walk on By” as performed by Mel Torme, but I’ll be damned if I hear it. Sounds more like Kasenetz-Katz Singing Orch. Circus’ “Quick Joey Small” as performed by Mike Love and the Manson Family Singers to me.
4. “Take Me to Your Leader” is Gary Glitter’s “Rock ‘n’ Roll Part 2” on drugs. I’m talking an ur-riff so Nicky Chinn/Mike Chapman simple that I’ll bet the surviving members of the Sweet are fighting over it as we speak. That this gooey, chewy piece of irresistible Space Age bubblegum isn’t pouring out of every radio in the U.S. of A. is proof that we are a country on the decline.
5. “Party Bag” is what would have happened had the Rembrandt Pussyhorse-era Butthole Surfers managed to get their grubby, amoral paws on a theremin. And Gibby Haynes had adopted a falsetto. Imagine a sea of funky sludge with a theremin crackling like lightning overhead. Now imagine some Lovecraftian horror, stirred by the crackling electricity, arising from the muck. Throw in some hand claps, a tambourine, and some primal drumming. The results are James Brown for the heavy-sedative crowd.
6. Sheer tub-thumping musical anarchy is a good thing. Especially when it’s leavened by a healthy dollop of humor. As D.H. Lawrence once said, “If you make a revolution, make it for fun/Don’t make it in ghastly seriousness.” (Got that, all you Fugazi kids?) Funkadelic understood this; so did Mott the Hoople. Add N to (X) understands it, too.
7. Do you think huckster/former Runaways manager/performance artist/vampire Kim Fowley is God? I think Kim Fowley is God. Obviously, Add N to (X) thinks Fowley is God, too, because the band covers his bizarre “Invasion of the Polaroid People.” Supplemented by the Led Zeppelin-ish stun drumming of Joe Dilworth and including samples from Fowley’s mucho-strango original, the song is that rarest of all things: the truly alarming novelty tune. Sample lyric: “I am the Goat Man/Go-Go the Dog Boy/Talking about everything he saw when he was stoned in high school/Shooting up in the boys’ room of Dog High School/Dogville, U.S.A.”
8. “Large Number”: Finally, the true sound of the autobahn. This is krautrock driven at krautrocket speeds on the wrong side of the road by maniacal Englishfolk. I don’t know what Shenton is trying to say, but it sounds urgent. My translation: “Where are the brakes on this thing?” “Hey/Hey/Hey/Hey!” indeed!
9. Just when you think Add N to (X) doesn’t have a reflective bone in its body, it throws the melancholy, if blip-heavy—Shenton & Co. have obviously been listening to Múm—”Pink Light” at you. Half High Mass, half theremin workout, and half Proustian revelry—hey, I told you I was no good at math—”Pink Light” is what you’ll want to turn on when the party finally breaks up.
10. Someday, when an insectoid master race descends from the skies to pillage and destroy, this album might well be your best chance of communicating with the titanium-exoskeletoned shock troops. If it doesn’t work, you could always try Metal Machine Music. CP