Thursday, February 3, 2011


Song: "The Soul of Man Under Socialism"
Artist: Ashtray Navigations
Search Term: "Socialism"

With a gaggle of guitars each emitting hollow, unrelenting feedback for eleven and a half minutes straight, the bed of this song sounds like "free grinding" time in a high school metal shop class. No drums kick in, no vocals arrive to guide you through the morass; it's a humming, screeching pile of sound whose only concession to traditional song structure is a barely perceptible harmonic figure that repeats itself for a few minutes and then swims away. After the harmonic theme fades, it's replaced in the mix with a shehnai or something, whose reedy squiggling nicely pulls the listener's ear above the gnashing din even if it doesn't do anything especially melodic. After a while, even that disappears and you're left with a well-balanced set of yawning feedback drones.

This description might make "The Soul of Man Under Socialism" sound thoroughly appalling, and it's certainly not going to be to everyone's taste, but bandleader Phil Todd controls the cacophony with a confident deliberateness that respects the listener's need to submerge herself into the track very slowly, while making sure there's enough song left to fully mesmerize once the listener feels acclimated. It's a fine example of an epic-length composition in which nothing much happens, but whose effectiveness would be severely diminished at half its running time. I feel like investigating Todd's discography further (though not completely, as he has released at least 36 albums) will be rewarding, and look forward to hearing what other curious places he's gone.

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