An exquisite corpse is an art exercise favored by the Dadaists and surrealists, in which a person does a drawing, or writes a few lines of poetry, folds the paper and passes it to the next person who continues with the piece not knowing what the previous person has done. This results in chance meetings and unexpected juxtapositions, similar to a kind of dream logic, like you might find in a Jean Cocteau or a David Lynch film.
To incorporate this process, multi-instrumentalists and engineer/producers Howard Buckwold and Preston Gabriel Garland who make up Elegant Mess would write unfinished song segments and send the last 10 seconds to the other, who would then continue and elaborate on the theme. The results, collected on Five Exquisite Corpses, are five song-suites: "Conquest,” "Man Vs. Nature,” "Brevity,” "Doubt" and "Money.” Realizing that not everyone wanted to listen to 12-minute mini-opuses, Exquisite Corpses is available in an abridged form, with the suites broken up into smaller segments, for easier digestibility, as well as in the unbroken format. The smaller segments still play continuously, so it's pretty much the same listening experience.
So, 22 tracks of randomly generated song suites... What is it? Is this just a barrage of bricolage noise music? Is it... *shudder* experimental music?
Well, yes, actually, Five Exquisite Corpses is experimental, but in the vein of exploratory art rock, like King Crimson, Radiohead and maybe early Genesis. The band have cited the second side of Abbey Road, as the greatest influence on this collection, and at times it sounds like leftfield singer/songwriters like Harry Nilsson or Randy Newman, albeit augmented with fuzzy metal riffs, tape recorder musique concrete and impossibly lush studio arrangements.
That's the thing that's so staggering about Five Exquisite Corpses is how damn catchy and infectious it is. It's like a dense puzzle, with every piece being a slightly different hue, but beautiful in its regard, but adding up to something amazingly accomplished, sum toto. You can let Five Exquisite Corpses play, washing over you like an evening breeze, or you can break it down and dissect its nuances, zooming in on it like a kaleidoscope. It works equally well, in both capacities.
To comment on the entirety of Exquisite Corpses would require an analysis the length of Infinite Jest. Suffice it to say, that this is a very successful experiment, that will appeal to pop and art music lovers alike. The musical performances are top-notch, the vocals are ace and the production makes me drool and cry a little bit. This kind of progressive, artistic rock has fallen out of favor, of late (if you're not The Arcade Fire, that is). Hats off for taking a chance, making something interesting, challenging and of lasting value.
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