The Desert Fathers is a side project featuring
the drummer from New York City post-punkish indie band The Forms.
I reviewed the debut album from
The Forms on this site a while back. This disc got sent
to us shortly thereafter, and it has taken me a while to write
on this because, well, let's just say that the ambiguously named
Acquaman has created a somewhat unfocused debut album.
I am going to make a comparison that is not, in my book, a good one. The Desert Fathers really reminds me of the work of Mike Patton, who you may remember from such bands as Mr. Bungle. I find Mr. Bungle irritating in some part, just like i find The Desert Fathers irritating in some part. However, well, if you like Mr. Bungle, you may very well enjoy this album.
Now, by saying "The Desert Fathers remind me of Mr. Bungle", what I mean is that this album is full of unnecessarily complicated rhythms (rhythms so complex i might go so far as to say that certain tunes, like Transmorph, are actually rhythmless), vocal expressionism that ranges all over the spectrum (on Evolution he moans tunelessly behind the guitars, while Agnus Dei features numerous layers of heavily distorted vocal lines competing with one another), and crunchy guitars (actually, the guitarwork is the best thing about Mr. Bungle, IMHO).
Let me discuss a few songs in depth, and perhaps you'll see what i mean. In order to get it out of the way, let me discuss the songs that annoy the heck out of me on the album.
The albums starts off on the wrong foot with Agnus Dei .
This song is built out of layers of voice that are digitally
manipulated: i hear phase shifting, backwards masking, speeding
up, slowing down, and there may be others as well. I think that
this is supposed to sound eerie or creepy, but instead it just
makes me reach for the skip button. It sounds unfocused and
never really jells together. As such, it does not evoke a mood
in me at all, unless you consider "annoyance" a mood.
The second song i despise is Peace in That , which actually starts out as a decent enough indie rock song in the vein of Chicagoan harder emo band Dis-. Well, Dis- with someone moaning under the main vocal line, creating a sort of "backing vocal of gastric pain". But that's not the most annoying part. After the music stops we are subjected to a minute of Acquaman (presumably) attempting to talk in an "old man voice". What is this -- a comedy album? (Note that my question begs the point of whether or not talking in an old man voice is actually funny.) This goes on far too long and is really annoying.
And then the album gets more annoying with Evolution in which the only vocal is the sound of someone moaning in gastric distress. Ugh. Someone get that man some Pepto-Bismol!
Okay, well, those are the low points on the album, and, like i said. i think that Mr. Bungle fans will "get the joke". I certainly do not. There are, however, a few bright spots. In general, the rest of the album (the other 7 tracks) are competent indie rock. The guitars are angular, the rhythms are tight, and the drums are loud and well recorded (courtesy of Mr. Albini, who seems to be buddies with The Forms and their ilk). However, two tracks stand out from the crowd as actually pretty good.
The first of these is Gloria in Excelsis Deo , which is not your typical
indie rock guitar song. Instead this is four minutes of really
interesting ambience with Gregorian chanting half-buried in
the background. It's a really lovely piece with chiming keys
in several layers. Combined with the chanting sound, it seems
like a fully ambient take on the early music by Enigma. I really
like this piece, and think that if Acquaman had made a full
album of this stuff i would have enjoyed it. Instead, it's just
an interesting interlude between indie rock tunes, and even
as such, it works rather nicely.
Finally, the album ends with Transmorph, which is a weird song. The
rhythms seem off (so unnecessarily complicated it almost sounds
rhythmless) and strange noises meander about. Then, towards
the end, there is an inexplicably beautiful moment where a chorus,
singing wordlessly, shines though the noise. It's a really beautiful
end to the album.
I also should point out that, of all the indie rock tunes on the album, Practical Joke is the indie rocking-est. Of course, this tune is where Acquaman is joined by the other members of The Forms, so basically this is a Forms track. It's not their best work, but not their worst either.
Overall, i don't know what to think of Spirituality. On the one hand there are some moments that really annoy me, but there is some beauty buried in the mix. I guess this is really a mixed bag. Perhaps Acquaman's next solo outing will be more focused.