2010 has been a busy year for Alex Body. Back in January, he offered up his self-released, solo debut, Just Say Yes. The album, which I loved, was a major departure from the work which Body had been involved with prior. As one half of The Twelve Canon’s macabre folk sound and a regular contributor of keyboard/organ parts to Miracles of God and various Samuel Locke Ward projects, Body had shown he wasn’t treading down the normal pop music path, but Say Yes‘ dark, gothy swaths of layered synths, layered vocals and Casio-programmed drums was out of left field, even for Body.
Alex has quickly built up an impressive catalog since his January debut. I’m giving you the skinny on the three projects which followed Just Say Yes: an EP for the, sadly defunct, Des Moines label, Moist Tapes called Little Hazey [sic]; a new cassette, Chief of Time and Frequency, from Iowa City’s Night-People Records; and a self-released EP, Culture of Closed Doors.
Little Hazey (Moist Tapes) 1/2
Little Hazey, which came out back in June, is the rambunctious little brother to Just Say Yes. It’s shorter (just under 20 minutes), it’s wilder, and it’s a bit goofier. Hazey‘s A-side is a single, sprawling track. The opening is warm and a little tense; it builds with layers of looped synths piling up on top of one another. The whole effect has a touch of Oriental mysticism. At three and a half minutes the buzzing kernel of a beat begins to show itself before a proper beat and a violent harpsichord strike introduce themselves just past the four-minute mark. The 9:39-long track never makes any wrong moves, per say, but doesn’t do enough to reward the time the listener invests. Both the warm, foamy introduction and the vamp-heavy second half are good, and the open
The B-side of Hazey is divided up between three supper dubby, Red Stripe-drinking, rum-soaked, DIY freakouts. The first of the three is almost exactly how you’d imagine Body would do reggae: it’s as much indebted to Peter Tosh as it is to The Troggs. The second cut is an instrumental work out which rides a basic riddim and allows Body to show of his musical skills in a more conventional way: dude solo’s for a couple minutes. It’s good, but not particularly compelling beyond being well composed/improvised and fun solos. The third blast from the tropical triplet is the most interesting track from Hazey. It’s a cacophonic and sloppy vocal performance backed with winding, wheezing synth solos over-top a rock-steady, metallic, reggae crunch. The closing cut of the B-side and several minutes of the A-side make this more than worthwhile.
Culture of Closed Doors (Self-released) 1/2
Culture of Closed Doors, Body’s most recent offering, is the also his most scattered. From the mechanical 80′s goth of “All the Same,” to the deliriously playful “Freaky Sponge,” to the John Frusciante-channeling ”You Will Ride With Me,” Body seems to be tapping into any and all his creative influences. He is, for the most part, successful in his genre tours.
The three-song set at the EP’s center is rock-solid, it’s the opening and closing tracks which pose problems. “Playing House” opens Culture with this watery playfulness that lacks the mirth of Little Hazey or “Freaky Sponge,” and doesn’t quite land the sense of loss or distance I think it’s trying to communicate. The closer, “Megalodon,” suffers from it’s relation to it’s considerably stronger predecessor, “You Will Ride With Me.” Though all of his material has been lo-fi, it’s the first to have that gut-level, bedrooom-recorded immediacy, “You Will Ride With Me” is a natural album closer. Like most of Body’s material, there’s a thin veneer of reverb on his voice, but “You Will Ride With Me” doesn’t impliment the double and triple-tracking or other vocal distortion, Body allows for the sincere and touching heart of the song to shine through. To present his voice and lyrics so clearly in the front of the mix for the first time, after utilizing so much distortion on hsi vocals, is courageous, and in this case, hugely successful. To have the folksy, rambling “Megalodon” follow that is wholly unfair.
Chief of Time and Frequency (Night-People Records) 1/2
I thought I loved Just Say Yes, and to be fair, I did and still do, but some of that love was purely for the new side Body was showing the world. Now that we know what he’s capable of, I still wouldn’t have guessed he would have something this good up his sleeve this quickly. Chief of Time and Frequency is the best of his four releases in 2010. Two of the cuts (“Without a Friend to Even Call” and “Distorted Hallways”) are back from Say Yes. They don’t sound terribly different, they’re roughly the same length, but both tracks have been refined, and sound sharper. In addition to two of his strongest compositions from his debut, Body has added four and a half astounding companions.
Album opener, “Dr. Max” is a deliriously playful, skronky jam built around a layer of looped vocal samples, a choir of Bodys making the most demented beat box you’ve ever heard.
With a reversed rhythm guitar recording forming it’s spine, the haunting “Cup Overflows,” like Culture‘s “You Will Ride With Me,” has a scruffy intimacy that would have been at home with John Frusciante’s early bedroom recordings. Both start quietly, almost whispering in your ear, before opening up, awash in waves of bubbly synths. The closing minute and a half of “Cup Overflows” is some of the best and most structurally sound music Body has put to tape this year. It’s lush without being overwhelming, it’s beautiful without being saccarine or treacly, and because of the wonderful ebb and flow of the synth lines, there’s a constant motion that keeps the song moving rather than circling round the drain of repetition.
“Turn,” which follows “Overflows,” is Body at his most Neil Young. If Young populated his compositions with the sounds and backing vocals as some of his subject matter (especially circa Tonight’s The Night), you’d be getting close to the sonic terrain “Turn” occupies.
The half a song I referenced at the top of this section is the 10-minute epic, “Heron Was Right.” The fifth track on this cassette is full of good ideas and great intent, but in moving from a contemplative, droney dirge to the spaced-out, noisey bombast of the closing minutes takes far too long. The middle of “Heron was Right” is a bit limp and the really beautiful opening minutes and the wonderfully hectic and well-constructed chaos of the end don’t quite make up for the two minutes or so you spend in the middle waiting for something to happen.
But two minutes out of the 30-plus Body has offered up is an amazing ratio. Chief of Time and Frequency stands as, not only Body’s best effort in 2010, but among the best Iowa City has seen this year. And like last year, there’s a glut of amazing Iowa City material out there to give that compliment some serious weight.
You can download Body’s self-released debut, Just Say Yes, and Little Hazey (the out of print cassette from Moist Tapes) for free from his bandcamp page, here. You can also follow that very link to stream Culture of Closed Doors and Chief of Time and Frequency on that site, as well as download select cuts from Chief.