Richard Pinhas – Desolation Row (2013)

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Forty years after first bursting into the avant-rock scene with his band Heldon, the music of guitarist/composer/philosopher Richard Pinhas remains as intriguing, mysterious and ahead of it time as it did then. And naturally, music that’s so far ahead can sound like something else altogether for the uninitiated. Like my wife, for example, who caught a little bit of Pinhas’ newest release Desolation Row downstairs from the room in which I was listening to it:

“What’s that noise?”

“I’m playing music” (pauses music) “Do you hear it now?”

“No”

“Then that’s the sound you were hearing.”

“Well it sounds like a toilet running.”

Desolation Row is hardly crapper (crappy?) music, but perhaps it’s not for everybody, either. It’s music that furthers the Pinhas legacy of merging electronica, metal and ambience to crate something that is hypnotic, abrasive and soothing…simultaneously. It’s also music that for being so far outside the mainstream, it’s eminently listenable. To me, at least.

This isn’t our first go around sizing up a Pinhas album: in 2010 there was Metal/Crystal, which includes meetings with Wolf Eyes and Merzbow. The following year was a full-on collaboration with Merzbow, Rhizome. Desolation Row has completely different supporting personnel than either of those albums save for his son Duncan Nilsson, which does change the complexion, but only marginally; Noel Akchote’s guitar is much more conventional than Pinhas’, and his presence has as great of an impact as the drummers, electronic effects players and synth players. Pinhas completely owns this sound, nevertheless.

It’s a sound that has no traditional song structure, a melody — if you want to call it that — that typically consists of a single chord, but an intensely heavy, industrial chord, a relentless drone. Pinhas figures out other ways to hold interest: for the opening, sixteen minute “North,” the drum rhythm is somewhere buried underneath the piles of sonic avalanche, nearly obscuring the root chord in the process. Here, and recall, everywhere else, Pinhas is shown to be a real master of incremental modulation in his noise-scapes; he dials up the fervor ever so slowly to a high plateau, and it stays there with minor peaks and valleys.

“Square,” is the closest the album comes to real rock, a shuffle beat with presumably Akchote’s rock guitar. A basic riff based song, the electronic streaks stay at bay, allowing some space to come in and the song to breathe. “South” has a drone sort of resembling bagpipes…metal bagpipes. Jazzy drums appear midway through song as well as proggy guitar solo. Guitar notes are sustained long to blend on with that drone. Pinhas revisits that maneuver on “Drone 1,” and it’s rather astonishing how he is able to manipulate feedback and an overdriven amp to combine his guitar with the massive electronic textures so effectively.

“Moog” makes use of 70s style analog synths, sounding closer to fellow French electronic music pioneer Jean Michel Jarre and his classic Oxygene album than Pinhas’ old Heldon band from the same period. “Circle” (SoundCloud above) is a groove built around a barely perceptible pulse. The backbeat drums and rock-ish guitar gets relentlessly assaulted by waves of effects and delayed audio signals, submerging the rhythm section under a morass of industrial sludge.

Richard Pinhas intends for Desolation Row to be a return to making political statements through his music, as he did in the Heldon days, weighing in on the current deep economic crisis in Europe. The original Électronique Guerilla doesn’t need a cause to sound inspired, but whatever the driving force was behind this album, it clearly worked.

Desolation Row goes on sale today (May 21), by Cuneiform Records. Visit Richard Pinhas’ website for more info.

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S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron is an SQL demon for a Fortune 100 company by day, music opinion-maker at night. His musings are strewn out across the interwebs on jazz.com, AllAboutJazz.com, a football discussion board and some inchoate customer reviews of records from the late 1990s on Amazon under a pseudonym that will never be revealed. E-mail him at svaaron@somethingelsereviews .com or follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SVictorAaron
S. Victor Aaron
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