This self-titled album by Les Baxters is reminiscent of many things. First and foremost for me it’s a strange night out during a Christchurch winter, evoking the feeling of flashing lights and a head full of uppers – of course without the cost of such substances and any risk of arrest.
The distinctive Ōtautahi electronica quartet’s ‘debut’ album is a confronting listen, full of sound effects set to send you around the twist. It’s an often messy kitchen sink recording, yet artful in a way that you can’t help but be entertained, intrigued, and even enjoy it.
Thematically the group set to traverse the unusual, the esoteric, and the niche. Alongside the obvious sci-fi influences they manage to add in doses of Joe Meek weirdness, Martin Denny indulgence, and most curiously the odd Dimmer moment. Theologically Speaking frames the increasingly disjointed and deranged speakings of some televangelist, while Call Centre literally rings to the tune of the nearly obsolete desk phone. Elsewhere we also hear the more natural sounds of birdsong and field recordings of Balinese gamelan.
Drawn together back in 2014, likely by a shared interest in the cited influences of sci-fi movie soundtracks, goth-doom and ambient techno, Les Baxters disbanded in 2019. This album isn’t an act of reformation, rather an artefact from their time together.
If you like to unpack the layers of a song this is the project for you. Paul Sutherland‘s loops of found, and not-so-found, recordings (try +Forth St), combined with John Chrisstoffels’ otherworldly theremin, and the vintage synth magic woven by Erin Kimber and Dave Imlay – there’s a lot going on. Between the frizzle and sizzle of what sounds like neon lights on the blink, there are moments of hypnotic rhythm and a somehow familiar melody.
The crux of this album is +Forth St., their hilarious take on Bob Dylan’s most annoying song. It samples that track (Positively 4th Street), and they’ve got a lot of nerve to do so – but they do it well, repetitive Casiotone notes to the fore. What starts out as the most annoying loop known to man becomes a hypnotic and peaceful movement, guided by the whirring, whizzing and wailing of a carefully managed theremin.
The album closes much in the way it starts, abruptly and jarringly – but that’s not such a bad thing. Final track Nosferatu is the peak of the wintery Christchurch night out that this album is. It’s the moment as you walk home, cosy in your best winter jacket, thick mist rising from the Avon River. The end is that moment when you get indoors, and remove the snug jacket – the comfort of discomfort gone. Can we do it all over again?