Negativland

Negativland

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The then-trio's debut record, like many first efforts out there, was tentative in many ways; without Don Joyce and his ear for ratcheting up collage chaos to even more confused yet coherent levels, Negativland here had many of the intentions but not the overarching conceptual approach. Still, much that's core about the group was already perfectly apparent -- the use of unexpected and often disorienting found-sound samples, sudden stops and starts, few "songs" as such. It's a very subtle record on balance, though, only here and there being as flat-out jarring and, dare it be said, epic as later albums, but with a fine ear to offsetting what might be pure ambient sound with a sense of both dynamics and construction. Nothing appears to be added "just because." Many of the band's earliest roots can readily be detected -- the combination of acoustic guitar and household noises on "2," for example, call to mind Pink Floyd's similar blend of mellow music and domestic activity on "Alan's Psychedelic Breakfast." Auras of Neu!'s cosmic drift mode and Faust's skipping from one source to another also come to mind; guitars are usually heavily processed and what conventional melodies are apparent, while the whispered vocals and near new wave pulse and chug of "10" suggest newer sources of inspiration. If something is already clear, it's the approach to considering suburban life and activity as a source of both amusement and unnerving horror. It could be the metallic drones and buzzes underlying "3" or the children's laughter and giggles mixed with nuclear war alerts on "19," but something is not entirely right. Wills doesn't make his vocal presence known except briefly, but when he appears, his one-of-a-kind way of speaking helps make the whole experience as perfectly Negativland as could be desired. Classic Wills moment: him saying over a drum machine skitter, "Play Black Sabbath at 78 RPM!"