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Death In Vegas
Trans-Love Energies Joe Kennedy , September 28th, 2011 11:15

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Death in Vegas are a complex proposition. Richard Fearless often seems to want to make records for nightclubs attended solely by elegantly wrecked devotees of an eclectic range of critically-approved music: deaths-head garage and drone, post-punk, Detroit techno, psychedelia, and the affectless modernism of 70s Dusseldorf and Berlin. However, his work has arguably found its widest audience by supplying the token-electronic filler for beery indie discos and car compilations with titles like One For The Lads and Cigarettes and Alcohol Classics.

One explanation for this may be that DIV are generally at their best when they sound like they're expanding the remit their refined aspirations permit them by, well, having a laugh. Fearless' reference points are exquisite, but his music improves when it's unburdened of the anxious need to demonstrate good taste. A case in point is 'Aisha', the Iggy Pop-fronted stomper from second album The Contino Sessions, which marries a killer's confession to a riff and beat not unlike The Glitter Band. It maintained the Velvetsy nihilism of the rest of the work, but lent it an oddly pop-friendly spin which suggested that you needn't have attended art school to appreciate it.

Something similar occurred on the following album, Scorpio Rising. Its eponymous title track, a Status Quo-sampling tribute to avant-garde filmmaker Kenneth Anger's short, succeeded by putting a deeply ambiguous sexual address into the mouth of none other than the stridently anti-intellectual, relentlessly macho Liam Gallagher. It at once subverted both Gallagher's blokish image and the preciousness of an art scene generally impervious to the charms of boys in Stone Island. By contrast, 'Hands Around My Throat', which drafted in Adult.'s Nicola Kuperus in an attempt to import some of the masochistic sleaze that was de rigeur eight or nine years ago, came across as unintentionally silly, as one might expect of a track featuring sampled whip noises without a hint of irony or calculated camp.

Since 2004 and the last DIV studio album, join-the-dots krautrock homage Satan's Circus, Fearless has been flitting between opposing corners of his aesthetic identity. Along with long-time collaborator Tim Holmes, he embarked on a never-to-be-finished production job for Oasis; a little later, he moved to Brooklyn to study film and photography, where he featured in art-rockers Black Acid. Now, he seems to have emigrated permanently to the hemisphere of connoisseurship. Named in honour of the MC5-and White Panther-linked arts collective from late-60s Detroit, Trans-Love Energies is an unabashed appeal to the vinyl nerds and drug casualties of Fearless' fantasy nightclub: nothing on it is open to the possibility of appropriation by One For The Lads II.

Normally, you'd be inclined to praise a group for maintaining aesthetic, rather than crowd-pleasing, commitments, but DIV's efforts to be a 'proper' boundary-pushing act all too often see them struggle to build on others' innovations. More so than any other album on Fearless' CV, Trans-Love Energies is paralysed by the anxiety of influence. Simon Reynolds talks about how the Jesus and Mary Chain, Primal Scream, and Spacemen 3 produced 'record collection rock', music which served almost purely as an iconostasis for the groundbreakers of the past, from the mid-80s onwards; the fact that DIV are manifestly inspired by all three of those bands puts them at an extra remove from the origins of the sounds they produce. Opener 'Silver Time Machine', for example, makes like Spiritualized making like Steve Reich, an impression later reinforced by a phase-heavy instrumental with the batteringly unambiguous title 'Drone Reich'.

Readers tend to get frustrated when reviewers describe tracks using formulas in the vein of 'like x meets y (on z)', but DIV don't leave their critics a great range of tools if simile is disregarded. 'Your Loft My Acid' moves to a beat which thinks it's Basic Channel but is closer to Bentley Rhythm Ace; 'Witch Dance', featuring an admittedly intriguing vocal from Austra's Katie Stelmanis, appears to have noticed in the Guardian that reinterpreting This Mortal Coil over slowed-down electro is the thing to do this year. None of this is to say that Trans-Love Energies is totally unenjoyable – half of it is effectively-realised dancefloor fodder – but it's the logical conclusion of Fearless' reverential attitude rather than an endeavour to push things forward.

At its best, the album triumphs in volume and viscerality rather than inventiveness. Second song 'Black Hole' pulls off the same trick as Primal Scream's 'Accelerator' by mapping massively distorted guitars onto a motorik beat, while 'COUM' – presumably named for Genesis P-Orridge's performance art gang – is a reasonably engaging exercise in detuned synth and pounded percussion. If you were completely unfamiliar with the references, you might think that something pioneering had been accomplished.

The debate about whether or not popular music's modernist phase has ended has intensified recently, particularly since Reynolds published Retromania a few months ago. DIV's latest album might well be cited as evidence by those in favour of such a motion, but that would be to sidestep the fact that they are capable of being subtly challenging when they produce material which brings together disparate constituencies of listeners. It might sound counterintuitive, but they're at their most unboundedly adventurous when they speak to an audience which is, in theory, more conservative. As it stands, Trans-Love Energies is too archival, a record devoted to celebrating and cataloguing the radicalism of its ancestors while demonstrating little of its own.

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Sep 30, 2011 2:11pm

In reply to Christian Louboutin Wedding Shoes:

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Oct 3, 2011 10:23am

This album would be fine if it wasnt for the cloying opening track. The bonus disc is better, much more minimal and dirty.

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Rooksby
Oct 3, 2011 7:18pm

As a big fan of Death In Vegas from the off, I wasn't impressed by this album initially, but it's grown on me & was hardly off the stereo last weekend... Though I prefer the darker, more experimental 2nd CD, disc 1's slo-mo horrorshow techno leaves fakers like The Horrors & (tsk) S.C.U.M. sounding pretty fucking weak...

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Oct 4, 2011 9:45am

In reply to Rooksby:

but do you agree the opening track is embarrassing?

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John Doran
Oct 4, 2011 1:04pm

In reply to :

Sorry. I accidentally deleted a comment then. Trying to deal with an abnormal amount of spam.

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Oct 4, 2011 4:28pm

In reply to John Doran:

no worries, as long as you ensure everyone gets to hear about my opinion from now on

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Amanda K
Oct 4, 2011 6:27pm

In reply to John Doran:

Useless fat shit.

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Killer Bob
Oct 5, 2011 4:25pm

In reply to :

Yes, that first track about dead stars from the past leaving him. They didn't leave you Mr Fearless. Saying it all in a croaky whisper doesn't make it any more meaningful > skip > into Black Hole and the rest of the album.
I agree with another post. Initially a bit 'meh' then it grows and then it doesn't leave my headphones for a week. Love it. Especially Savage Love.
It's even made me dig out Satans Circus again.

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Paul Rayson
Jun 17, 2012 6:06pm

Reviews of this album generally seem bad as in negative or, more often, bad as in badly written. This review is certainly more the former than the latter, but it still reveals the writer, his ambitions and predelictions, over the subject. The criticism adds up to the whine of one hipster knocking another in an attempt to show he's the ultimate hipster. The biggest crime perhaps is that he says the album should've shown evidence that Fearless is capable of having a laugh, where the review itself is intensely joyless. You can't simply pass this off as being in sympathy with the music. The album will need a reevaluation at some point, a proper consideration of its kicking qualities.

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Joe K
Jun 26, 2012 2:35pm

In reply to Paul Rayson:

Paul, I genuinely wish I could be considered a hipster rather than a 31-year old miseryguts who hasn't been to a nightclub for three years and dresses like a nineties-era Frank Skinner. They seem to have a lot of fun.

Anyway, I've wondered a fair bit about this review since I wrote it. I certainly can't say that I'll never put this record on again, but I know that I'll never get over just how referential and reverential it is - it's like Fearless is actually trying to find ways of being even more meta than the early records. While he's capable - unlike latter-day Jason Pearce and Bobby Gillespie - of making stuff that sounds (more or less) good out of his reference points, I find that the extent of the borrowing means that this album fails to create a coherent experience for the listener. So - it doesn't absorb me, and on those grounds I find it somewhat joyless. I appreciate why people might feel otherwise about it, although it might be worth adding that this review isn't by any means a panelling.

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Paul Rayson
Jul 3, 2012 5:09pm

In reply to Joe K:

Thanks for this. Your review is fine and my comment little more than defensive.
It comes down to taste just being a matter of taste, I suppose, but I'll try to guess at what informs my liking for that album.
Retromania outlines how modern music is obsessed with the past. I just don't see that as necessarily bad. I've always seen beery indie as nothing but a dull attempt at that sort of thing. The Scorpio Rising single doesn't subvert Liam's character enough for me. I honestly can only listen to the Scientist version of the song (the vocal still appears, just with the usual dub trick of echoey disembodied snatched phrases). The "record collection rock" of JAMC, Primal Scream and Spacemen 3 is no slur where I come from, though. Yep, I see it as a positive, playful artistic movement.
Bloom's "anxiety of influence" line belies those who consciously play with influence and - I honestly believe this! - even the notions of self-consciousness that entails. DIV were stoned out of their boxes and having a whale of a time when they came up with their most consistently literal take on the music of their heroes (yes, Kraftwerk in this case) for Satan's Circus. Easy to argue for the dangers of *playing* with influence there then perhaps, just not so the anxiety of it.
So we've entered the realm of a particular kind of "double retro" with bands like Wooden Shjips who reference both the 80s/90s and the 60s wave of "record collection rock". Bring it on. "Old is the new new" is a complex concept that can cause art to focus hypnotically, even ecstatically, on context and detail. It lends itself particularly well to repetitious music, of course. That's why that DIV album is brilliant and even distinct to some of us (even I'm a bit shocked out how many of the people I've played it to have gone for it so much).

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Noel Douglas
Oct 1, 2012 8:17pm

In reply to Paul Rayson:

Whilst I would agree with the assessment of DIV given in the review for the old stuff, I think this is a really good album.

One not so good track, the opener-but lots of really minimal moog tunes that have a great mood and I would say are not just a playing out of influences. I was very surprised.

Witch Dance is fantastic, Your Loft, Coum, Savage Love are great, the rest good it tends to lose it when it goes more rock…should have been just the minimal moog vibe.

Whilst I understand DIV's reference points I'd say this album out of all theirs, is in it's own world and great actually.

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