hi this review is of charlie alex march's "in the end" ep, a record i haven't listened to. jeez, sorry it's so long!
There's an inherent contradiction in being an avant-garde artist who makes actual consumable product, isn't there? Or maybe it's not even a contradiction but it's definitely a slippery slope, a troubling combination – like a runner who smokes, or I guess for that matter an avant-garde artist who doesn't smoke. I'm not even really referring to the seeming pattern of the avant-garde to present their art as an instillation, a unique and livable experience to have once or twice and to never have again, as opposed to a purchasable print or replicable item. As a professional layman, I guess I don't really have an educated enough perspective to even comment on what is and isn't appropriate behavior for the avant-garde, and isn't much of the avant-garde impulse intended to thumb its nose at establishment – to flick the ash from their Nat Sherman into the suburban public's eye?
But as a music fan, I can't help but feel frustrated when I see an LP, or in the case of this review, the 7” sleeve for Charlie Alex March's EP In the End that is so outrageously, so outlandishly, so KWAAZZZZZILYYYY packaged that there's no goddamn way I can take it home and file it with the rest of the vinyl masses dressed in their respectively modest Sunday's best. The arrogance of it is infuriating – the nerve of this artist, to implicitly declare with such obnoxious confidence that their creation, their dumb-fuck vision is so mind-melting not even the packaging can bother to conform to you, the no-nothing observer, and your knee-jerk, unhip concept that a record comes in a certain sized packaging for a reason.
But before I come off too strongly as one of the aforementioned squares, I have to say, occasionally, it totally works. Public Image Ltd is the easiest example that comes to mind, with their Metal Box costing too much and containing too few songs and rolling off your record shelf to bounce open and scatter on the floor – but “Albatross” is a killer jam. “Bad Baby” is a winner. And the metal box itself, with all of its design flaws, is a fitting visual for the steel-eyed rhythms that lie within its often hard to open (unless hitting the floor of course) container. There are other examples as well, just off hand I'm thinking of that Feederz record in sandpaper (a Durutti Column record too I think?)...I remember reading something about some old prog record in a three-dimensional pyramid style packaging, and wasn't there some minimal synth record packaged in between two slabs of granite or something? Death in June, anyone? Merzbow?
Charlie Alex March adds his name to the list of bratty packaging provocateurs with the design for his In the End EP consisting of a giant flimsy cardboard sleeve with a green screen print of the artist's name and “Yokoland” in retro-futurist font. The 7” itself is inside transparent plastic glued to the cardboard, and is accompanied by a paper insert that I imagine he'd prefer if you referred to it as “a unique piece of art.” While I haven't actually measured the cardboard, it's easily too large to package in a standard LP box, which means it's destined, whether by design or circumstance, to become a collector's item for superfans and collectora obscuros. How confrontational, perhaps? How daring? What is this supposed to make us - the audience – think? What can we possibly expect as we drop the needle on this unique and uncompromising piece of capital A art?
Well, the answer comes quickly, and it's a complete absence of imagination. Even the tepid re-arrangement aside, “True Love Will Find You in The End” is the most covered and most easily coverable Daniel Johnston song – and as a leading foot to an EP that seems to want to challenge, it's a terribly weak and soulless first step. And I would claim that it's all downhill from here, but that implies that any one of the EPs four songs have any sort of gravity or weight with which to begin. “When the Clouds Clear” aimlessly drifts along completely unswayed by its inappropriate string section (clearly an afterthought – I can imagine the producer carelessly tossing it in when Mr. March suggested “this track needs to be more...resplendent”). “Piano Song” hardly qualifies as a song, much in the way Hallmark cards hardly qualify as poetry, and “Thinking of You” (whose title, I believe, is an unintentional reference to an entire SECTION of Hallmark cards) closes the EP with the sole distinction of helping us swim through the final puddle of piss in the cliché gutter.
But maybe I'm being too harsh. With all said and done (and heard), the EP is actually completely listenable – maybe even enjoyable for fans of Damien Rice with a slightly more open mind to the record's more quote-unquote “eccentric outbursts” (which are actually pretty common sounding to any other privileged noodlers). But to present run-of-the-mill British bedroom pop in such overblown packaging only invites more critical ears to dissect the songs with above-average attention (and how many forgiving critics do YOU know?). It's a shame too, because one thing oddities like this record (and those mentioned earlier) can help remind us (in an admittedly over-the-top fashion) is that the entire package is important; the entire presentation, artwork and audio, combines into that unique and livable experience. When a record like this tries too hard in all the wrong ways, it's just discouraging to other artists who want to branch out but fear the potential for failure, or at least missing the mark. Sure, everything about a record is important, but as Charlie Alex March reminds us, not every record is an important one.
heart - dave