DAN DEACON AND JIMMY JOE ROCHE
Ultimate Reality (DVD)
Dan Deacon and Jimmy Joe Roche's new multimedia workout, Ultimate Reality, is something of an endurance test. Just how much slow-mo, stroboscopic, mirror-image, split-screen, digitally psychedelicized Arnold Schwarzenegger can you take? Forty minutes? How about if they throw in some synth drones, ring modulator freak-outs, and tribal-by-way-of–Wham City drumming?
The DVD jacks footage from the Governator's films, editing them into a loose narrative that conflates his more macho roles (the Terminator, Conan) with those less so (Kindergarten Cop, Junior), in the hope of establishing a "dominant pansexual ubermyth." Two sets of scrolling intertitles confuse plot points from various films (even non-Schwarzenegger joint Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure) to create a story—involving time traveling, robots, a "man-womb," Bill and Ted's history report—for all the unintelligible visual chaos.
There are roughly five musical movements. The first is a slow warm-up, all droning toy keyboards and acoustic drums. The second adds a slow chord progression, slide whistles, and snatches of gibberish chatter. The third adds a playful xylophone melody and turns the chatter into a rhythmic element. The fourth begins with cheap, plastic synth funk, fluttering arpeggios, and a lazy backbeat before erupting into swirling modulation and swaggering saw waves. Finally, there's an endlessly peaking 16th-note synth-and-drum buildup.
The bonus material includes a made-in-the-mall green-screen music video for Deacon's "The Crystal Cat" and an outtake of a crepe paper–covered Deacon playing keyboard and singing in some bedroom in front of a "Kill 'Em All" flag while Roche dances around behind him in a magenta bodysuit and sunglasses.
The debt owed by Deacon and Roche to Paper Rad and TV Carnage is, at times, irksome—especially because Ultimate Reality seems like the C-student, class-clown imitation of those artists' crackpot-genius culture jacking, more ironic gesture than innovative substance. This DVD will be a treat for Deacon's dollar-store acolytes, but it's ultimately a novelty, good for a couple viewings and visual background noise but not much else. ERIC GRANDY
PDA (U.S. edition)
Hey Willpower is the electro-pop/R&B project of Imperial Teen's Will Schwartz and Tussle's Tomo Yasuda, plus a handful of hot-ass backup dancers. Their debut full-length, PDA, is a collection of songs alternately sleazy and sweet, lustful and lovestruck, all built for maximum gay dance-floor bump 'n' grind.
Astute ass shakers will recognize several tracks here—the steamy panting and whispered come-ons of "Double Fantasy II," the euphemistic sex jam "Uh-Uh-Uh," the deliriously upbeat '80s new wave of "Hundredaire," and the Morricone-jacking "Magic Window"—from a self-titled EP and two singles released in 2005. The entire full-length, minus the Architecture in Helsinki cover, "Heart It Races," has been available to European clubbers since 2006.
Despite the delay, PDA still sounds fairly fresh. Tomo and Schwartz scan and sample mainstream pop and R&B—Dre's detuned, g-funk Moogs; Timbaland's echoing, off-kilter robot hand percussion; the Neptunes' alternately schmaltzy and minimal synths—filtering everything through laptop-sized speakers. Hey Willpower don't have the big-budget studio sound of their influences—the synths sometimes sound a little thin, the vocals are occasionally overemphasized—but they nail enough of the little details to make up for these small failings. The melancholy countermelodies of "Not Trippin'" look back to '80s Latin freestyle or turn-of-the-'90s boy bands. "Phenomenon" kicks off with a chant of "let's get low" that wouldn't sound out of place on a Southern rap single. The guitar strums of "Too Hot" could've been lifted off Justified. Still, the catchiest track here remains the 2005 single "Hundredaire," with its rising five-note melody and multitracked soul-diva chorus.
Throughout, Schwartz is equal parts cheesy and pop perfect, his vocals easily switching between playful smut and sincere pillow talk. Hey Willpower's sex jams might not be ready to go toe-to-toe with Kells just yet, but they're still goofy, guilty pleasures. ERIC GRANDY
Though they probably mean it as a joke, the "jungle" description on Rings' MySpace page isn't that far off. The female trio's first album as Rings (they were formerly known as First Nation), Black Habit's concoction of field noises, chanting, singing, and layers of instrumentation (piano, synthesizer, drums, guitar, tambourine, etc.) sounds weirdly tribal, almost ritualistic. They're noises that would make the most sense in another world—in the middle of the threatening, dizzyingly thick jungle.
In the third track, "Is He Handsome," one girl starts gasping, and the noise is awful. It sounds like she's dying; it sounds like she's breaking the surface of water just long enough to take the one breath before being pulled back under. The gentle (albeit haunting) harmonies take the edge off, but only for a second. Then the rest of the environment attacks, swarming with synthesizers that sound like tiny, scary creatures. The gasping gets worse, more desperate, and a voice asks with giddy panic, "Is he handsome? Is he handsome?" The reply: "I want to run, I want to leave, I want to escape from fear." And so it goes for many more minutes.
Only two songs on the eight-track disc come in under the five-minute mark. But the beginnings and the ends of each track are unclear (only a subtle, quick break in beat patterns suggests a new song has begun), so that the entire record feels circular, appropriately, like a ring. It's a lot to take in.
But while the noise sculptures on Black Habit constantly verge on overbearing, Rings carefully keep things just slightly more intriguing than off-putting. You won't want to turn it off until you know the gasping girl is okay, and even then you may never be sure. MEGAN SELING