By Chaz Kangas
By Sound of the City
By Peter Gerstenzang
By Katherine Turman
By Chris Kornelis
By Brian McManus
By Ray Cummings
By Nicholas Pell
Experimental electronic producers love to talk about incorporating mistakes and digital dysfunction into their music. Listen to their records, though, and it's hard to imagine anything less messy: Pristine and prissy precision rules, with every last glitch and blerkkkpt fastidiously placed just so. But where 99.7 percent of electronica is paradoxically anal yet sterile, Blectum from Blechdom are fecal and fecund. Not only is this female duo's music full of loose ends and soiled sounds, but like some transgender IDM version of Beavis and Butt-head, they're obsessed with all things abject and icky. Kevin Blechdom and Blevin Blectum used paint and their own posteriors to personalize the sleeves of the early Blectum EP Bad Music and Buttprints, while the mini-album De Snaunted Hausrelates the unsavory adventures of critters called snauses: toilet-lurking vermin who scuttle out to bite off people's toes. There's also a character called Mallard, a depraved scientist who like some cross between Donald Duck and Mengele biologically engineers snauses with extra orifices for . . . oh, I'll spare you the grody details. Suffice to say, The Busy Busy World of Richard Scarryit ain't.
The first time I heard De Snaunted Haus, I immediately thought of the movie Heavenly Creatures, the true story of a pair of excessively imaginative schoolgirls whose private fantasy world becomes so absorbing that it snowballs into shared psychosis. According to the duo, the snause stories started as a private joke that took on a monstrous life of its own. Likewise Blectum's music seems peopled with mangled and misshapen life-forms: mutants spawned in the audio lab, gargoyle gurgles as horribly compelling as the plates of growths and goiters in a medical deformities textbook. Sounding at times like the Residents gone rave, Blectum have coined one of the most idiosyncratic and enthralling sonic vocabularies in the vastly oversubscribed realm of left-field electronica.
An album of live material, Fishin' in Front of People(Pthalo) mostly documents the early Blectum phase before De Snaunted Haus's between-track skits and mini-plays. So there's less macabre whimsy and fewer silly voices to distract you from the experimentation (Kevin and Blevin are actually students at Mills College in Oakland, California, through whose portals such avant-icons as Morton Subotnik and Pauline Oliveros have passed). Shunning MIDI and sequencing software, Blectum hand-trigger their loops and beats, creating a disjointed anti-seamlessness that's real funky, albeit in a lurching, three-legged sort of way. They like textures that feel tacky to the ear's touch, tallow-waxy like intestines moistly unspooling, and they're big into vocal science, warping some unnamed diva's a cappella funhouse-style across the octaves on a sampling keyboard.
All this creative alchemy is based in the duo's passionate, rather volatile friendship. Right now Blectum from Blechdom are in a weird possibly-split-up, probably-gonna-reform limbo. In the meantime, there's a welter of solo activity. Picking up from the duo's love of dinky/plinky music-box-style melody-riffs, Kevin Blechdom's three-inch CD The Inside Story(Tigerbeat6) offers nine player-piano-like miniatures, ranging from charming clockwork naïveté to carny-show grotesquerie. Conversely, her imminent solo album for Chicks on Speed's label takes the vocal element and taboo-tweaking of Haus De Snausto the dizzy limit. Up against Inside Story's instrumentals, Bitches Without Britches(those Blechdom gals sure love alliteration and internal rhyme) comes off a mad-catchy song-fest: Kevin's high reedy voice fluting overornate-but-thin synthesized orchestration and dementedly overdriven drum machine. Imagine some three-way collision of Tori Amos, the Frogs, and Stephen Merritt, operating with a studio outlay restricted to under $100. Kevin is clearly the Blechgirl most infatuated with the idea of transgressive bad taste, and on Bitches she goes for the Yiddish triple whammy: schlock, kitsch, chintz. Covering "Private Dancer" is a low blow indeed, but pales next to her paean to boyfriend kid606 a/k/a "Mr. Miguel." Trilling like some helium-huffing composite of Enya and Kiki Dee, Kevin rhymes "heart" with "private part" and sings choice verses like "Mr. Miguel/we're doing just swell/and it's only getting better/because my pussy's feeling wetter."
Where Kevin goes for full-frontal crudity, Blevin has a more oblique slant on the basic Blechdom sensation of things-not-quite-right-here. The cover of her superb solo album Talon Slalom(Deluxe) captures this, with its cheesy-yet-creepy painting of a woman wearing fur-trimmed ski goggles. Expanded to its full dimensions on the inner sleeve, the image is revealed as a found object: a bizarrely ill-conceived optician ad depicting an eagle's giant talons gripping the skier's skull (the bird of prey, seemingly confused by the fur, has swooped down on what it thinks is a tasty mountain hare). Things are no less awry on the CD itself. "Rockitship Long Light Years" samples an awesome female voice (Wanda Jackson gone lounge?) belting out what might once have been a raunchy double entendre: "come and take a trip/in my rocketship." The clanking, creaking groove makes me think of a coal-powered spacecraft from some steampunk parallel universe, puffing and straining as it struggles to reach escape velocity. "The Way the Cookie Crumbles Straight From the Horse's Mouth" is the first of no fewer than four songs dedicated to boyfriend/musician J. Lesser. Chopping, time-stretching, and generally fucking with some classic blissed-out house-diva samplesphrases like "my vision is clear" and "feeling good"Blevin makes the sort of sonic Valentine's Day card that a glitch-fiend like Lesser would appreciate. Like "Mr. Miguel," it's touchingly indicative of Blectum from Blechdom's distance from the IDM fraternity that they'd wear their hearts on their sleeves (or discs) so flagrantly.