Being a bit of an album fetishist (as many dyed-in-the-wool music geeks are, I imagine), I’m no stranger to occasional impulse purchase – especially if it’s cheap. Here in my hometown of Montréal, we happen to have a glut of good, generally affordable used music stores whose bargain bins brim with surprisingly decent material alongside the usual budget-price crapola. While I’ve occasionally found some real gems this way, more often than not I’ll wind up getting albums I listen to once or twice and then promptly forget about.
Until now, that is. Through careful selection based on how little I remember the actual songs, I’ve selected my ten least-listened-to bargain bin albums and have set aside the next month to review them all. It’s these crucial re-listens that will determine whether I keep them or send them flying, frisbee-like, into the harsh Canadian winter night.
It seems only natural, then, that I’d start with something local. Les Georges Leningrad have been described at allmusic as “unselfconscious art terrorists,” though I’d agree with only 2/3 of that statement. I’d say for any group of people with a functional set of ears to make music this willfully unpleasant, they’d have to be plenty self-conscious. You see, it’s a funny thing about Montréal: being a relatively small city that prides itself as something of an indie hub, there’ll inevitably be bands whose popularity stems from the novelty of how weird and abrasive they are. After all, when you’re inundated with music, what’s the easiest way to stand out? Be as un-musical as possible. Look weird. Record on equipment that sounds like it’s constantly about to break. Make it unclear as to whether you’re kidding. As long as you’re having fun and can maybe set a couple of your songs to a vaguely danceable beat, you will build a following. Guaranteed.
You’d think I’m actually condemning this kind of thing, but I’m not. Really. I think every musician should indulge in the joy of making an awful racket for the sheer hell of it at least once. My problem is that there are people who take this kind of shit seriously. Pitchfork.com (you knew this was coming, didn’t you?) gave this album a 7.4 and opened their review with “what Les Georges Leningrad lack in originality, they make up in atmosphere,” suggesting that their idea of ambient music involves taking a power drill to one’s gums while humming “The Blue Danube.”
Point is, this album sounds terrible, but that’s precisely what the band were going for. This is a conceptual art project, not an album, and as such you listen for the actual “sound” of it, not the musical quality. So as physically intolerable as some of it might be, it succeeds on its own warped terms because it sounds interesting, is strange, and annoys the living crap out of me. So yes, an admirable effort all around, guys (and girl who shrieks like a 12-year-old). Now where the hell’s my aspirin?
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Final verdict: My brain shouldn’t have to rationalize what my ears cannot physically withstand. Put another way, I find it hard to commend a tactical assault on the senses just because it’s funny.