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The Unpredictable Mind-Fuckery of the Twilight Circus and Edward Ka-Spel’s “800 Saints in a Day”

by Mat Blackwell

On first listen, I found this album immediately annoying. 800 Saints in a Day begins with a pretty lame and unoriginal guitar riff, played with that raw nooby sound you get when you just plug a guitar straight into an amp and strum it for the first time, unaccompanied by drums or bass or anything else—just uncooked teenaged guitar, alone. Over this unimaginative riff come the pop-punk affected vocals, uninspired and irritating. But then a moment of vocal pitch-shifting weirdness, then another, and then the electrogrinding circuit-bent speak-n-spell noises begin. Synths and weirdness join in; multiple layers of strangeness and treatments eventually outweigh the pop-punk pretensions completely.

And that’s just how 800 Saints in a Day goes:  You never know exactly what the next track will bring, nor what direction a single piece will go in. The starts are rarely like the ends, and there are few signposts along the way to guide you. A piece might start with a tribal-style bongo loop, travel along a path that seems almost Krautrockish, and end with a noise that is somewhere between a deflating balloon and a saxophone solo. You’ll never know if a track will feature vocals, or if it will be some sound-only excursion into dark trance, or if, as in ‘Germ Patrol’, somehow do both, and then halfway through turn into some glitched easy-listening yoga-friendly piece, only to be completely drowned in broken bass noises. In nearly every piece on this album, I found myself making assumptions about ‘what kind of song this was’, only to have my assumptions completely pissed on, and found myself going from self-assured critical superiority to slack-jawed awe in the space of minutes, again and again.

Ryan Moore

This is very strange music. Its insistence on not being pigeon-holed is powerful indeed:  The more I listened to it, the more I found myself loving the fact that it was just as eager to revel in shitty uninteresting pop hooks as it was to suddenly throw in a fire engine. This is music that honestly doesn’t give a shit about what you like, or what genres you feel aligned to, or what patches you sew on your jacket. This is music that ‘comes from’, rather than ‘goes to’; this is music that might catch you on the way past, but only if you make the effort to jump on board. The more I listened, the more I loved that I hated parts of it. I respected it for not being afraid. For not caring about my opinion about it whatsoever.

Not to say that I really hated much of it at all, it turned out. Mostly, this album is a great collection of ever-evolving loops with an immensely wide palette, encompassing noise, krautrock, electro, ritual trance, aquatic slap-bass, old-school kosmiche, pure sound-art, glitch, warped Eastern soundtrack melodies, experimental violin, psychedelic hammer-dulcimer jams, muffled disco, intercepted telephone calls, circuit-bending, (John) Carpenter-style synthy soundscapes, and, yes, shitty teenaged pop-punk, which actually works really well in the context of this dizzying no-holds-barred grab-bag of alien worlds. Shitty teenaged pop-punk is just another colour to splash on this grand canvas, (Jackson) Pollock-style, which features so many damn different colours that it’s almost impossible to look at all at once.

Edward Ka-Spel

But it’s not like all the colours are splashed on at once:  Edward Ka-Spel and Ryan Moore definitely let each section breathe, and most of the contrasting sections are eased into, rather than smashed together. There is plenty of room here, and pieces tend to evolve rather than jump—although, of course, sometimes they jump too. Nothing is off limits here; everything is permitted. Do what thou wilt!

It’s fucking great, but I honestly don’t know who this album will appeal to. It’s not a cut-up album for Mr. Bungle nerds, and it contains maybe too many solid musical grooves for Nurse with Wound heads, but it feels like it fits (not neatly—there’s nothing neat about this album) some place between the two. It’s for fans of genre-hopping, without the frenzy of Zorn; it’s for people who like fucking weird distorted sounds but prefer Add N to X or Stereolab to Venetian Snares or Aphex Twin. I guess it might be suitable for fans of the Legendary Pink Dots, given that both Moore and Ka-Spel were members of that band for various periods of time. When it comes down to it, this album is for people who want to hear things they’ve never heard before, which basically summarises my whole thing when it comes to art of all kinds. It kept me on my toes the whole time, in a delighted state of confusion, completely unsure as to what was about to happen next, even after repeated listens. Highly recommended—just don’t give up when you hear undercooked pop guitar, because trust me, it doesn’t stay that way.

Tourette Records