Ulan Bator

Ego: Echo

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Musical train wreck scenarios? Wait -- here's one. What do you get when you lock an American producer and label head (Swans' Michael Gira), an Italian engineer, and an experimental rock band from France in a dinky sweat box located in Florence? You've got oppressive heat and three languages. Is that not enough? How about this? The band has to materialize most of the songs on the spot. It sounds like a mess, but this unlikely situation produced an hour's worth of heavy duty, top-drawer avant rock. It would be lazy and limiting to merely say that Ulan Bator's first U.S.-distributed record will appeal to those who think Sonic Youth lost it once they entered the '90s. You can hear their oddly tuned menace during the first two minutes of "Santa Lucia," but that passage -- which sets up several minutes of plodding malaise -- manages to sound nastier and better produced. And if it weren't for the French vocals and periodic piano tinklings, "La Joueuse de Tambour" would be right at home on the second side of Sister. The first ten minutes of "Let Go Ego" offers dubby flow motion (Who knew the French could dub it up?), followed by the entrance of dynamic guitars and Hammond atmospherics, capped with wordless chanting and the repeated phrase of "Let go ego." Experimentalism and self-consciousness seem to go hand in hand, but not here. That's what makes the record all the more exciting. It would be wise of Ulan Bator to continue working with Gira. Their collaboration clearly yielded something greater and more powerful than they had expected. It's an ideal mix of noise, rhythm, and filmic sound sculpting. Very clearly, this power(ful) trio is the finest French rock export since Metal Urbain.

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