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Like the rancid new burger from Mickey D’s, Music Arch de Lux takes a little time to digest. But the sprawling, disjunct, and droning soundtracks the duo creates are far more soothing than McDonald’s’ latest folly and, unless you’re French, M.A.L. isn’t at all bad. Made up of Ex-Atari Kids Derek Morton and Jeff Sprague, the Arlington-based band plays music that touches on the electronica produced by Kraut-rock noodlers Cluster and hypno-power stunners Suicide: two bands the twentysomethings are hardly familiar with.
“[At a show we played with] Sonic Boom, [he] mentioned that we sound like Suicide, but I would not know since I have not checked them out,” admits Morton. “Maybe because of the lo-fi techniques we employ, at least that’s what other people think.”
Morton characterizes the twosome’s sound as “degenerate, punkified triphop.” And Sprague says that “since it’s improvised, sometimes it comes off as demented kiddie music and other times like gothheaven forbidbut it jumps around a lot. Some of it certainly stems from a deconstruction of pop that seems to occur more frequently these days. People are more willing to allow themselves into a musical world or landscape than to be just hit by song after song.”
Sprague and Morton met at James Madison University’s radio station in the early ’90s but only started making music a short time ago “out of the blue,” says Sprague. “Derek had a lot of music equipment lying around, and since he didn’t already have a band, I didn’t feel the need to ‘try out’ for anything and just asked if he minded if I brought my sampler by to try and make something cool. Since I don’t have any formal musical training, I was just winging it a lot, which Derek seemed to groove on. The sampler really let us come out of left field with stuff. I think we were amazed at how cool the crappy stuff we sampled actually sounded, once we messed with it.”
M.A.L. recently released five 30-minute cassettes, with 15 minutes of its woozy bleat-and-beep dreamscapes backed by another 15 minutes of experiments from, respectively, Azusa Plane, Ex-Atari Kid, Rob Christiansen, Triptic of a Pastel Fern, and Galaxina. And there are 20 more releases on the way.
“By breaking the material up in 15-minute digestible parts we can successfully highlight what M.A.L. is about without risking losing the attention of our audience,” explains Morton. “Getting other artists to contribute B-sides also helps sell the tapes and spread the word. My label [Rocker! Supernova Records] may eventually catalog the tape series on CDs. Right now I’m happy to keep it on tape even if it limits the listenership and prevents it from becoming recognized as a legitimate release. Cassettes allow us to experiment away and learn about what we are working with without losing our shirt in the process.”
Tapes are available for $3 through Rocker! Supernova Records, P.O. Box 149, Arlington, VA 22210. Make checks payable to Derek Morton.Christopher Porter