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El Guapo / Edie Sedgewick | The Geography of Dissolution / First Reflections (Mud Memory / Mud Memory/Dischord)
Apparently having begun life as a more easily classifiable punk outfit, what El Guapo present on the two live sets from 1999 collected as The Geography of Dissolution is something much less easily pigeonholed. Percussion skitters to the fore, fusing with free-ranging oboe and scratched or plucked guitar to form a skeleton of sorts upon which hangs keyboard tones, darting bass and occasional elliptical vocal. The call-and-response of Zelda gives a clue to their shouty hardcore background, and flashes of formal familiarity occur piecemeal throughout. For the most part though El Guapo seek out more exploratory terrain with a framework filled by improvisation as each track flows into the next, making each set a ranging, yet unified, piece. This music doesn't allow for instant gratification, it's more puzzling, challenging and ultimately more rewarding than that. "You go to a show and it's the same people pulling out the same tricks," core member Jason Moyer has been quoted as saying. "The songs are good, but what's next?" With the explorations of El Guapo he provides his own answer. Another answer might be Moyers's other project Edie Sedgwick, whose First Reflections album sports a tracklist that reads like an Academy Award roll call. What at first glance appears to be a protracted ironic gag reveals itself to be a more-or-less serious - though not humourless - response to what the two members of Edie Sedgwick see as the irrelevance of so much self-centred songwriting and a culture still seemingly hungry for bankrupt dogma on all sides. The duo's alternative is to laud the hollow and popular via 13 edgy and athletic paeans to stars of the big screen. Filling up the space with just two instruments, Moyer's bass riffs fluidly while Ryan Hick's percussion clatters, hyperactive and precise. While admiring it from a distance, it's easier to take the band's post-modern schtick with a pinch of salt. It's true that most proffered ideologies, and the poster-boys and girls that are inevitably evoked by folks grasping for ready-made mythology or gravitas (Edie Sedgwick cite Che Guavara and Jean Paul Sartre as such) have been manhandled into commodities as threadbare as the solipsistic songs that obviously revolt the duo. But if expressing themselves through a third party is their agenda (as it seems to be on First Reflections) surely there are more worthy figureheads to celebrate than Macauley Culkin and Jennifer Love Hewitt. It's not that the Charles Manson-esque spin on being a "cultural mirror", and only throwing back the empty archetypes that they're provided with passes me by. I just can't help thinking of it as a cop out. Maybe they didn't exactly stall at the fence when it came to forging some new archetypes of their own; maybe it was never part of their plan. But I can't help thinking that you've got to try, haven't you?
CWAS #8 - Summer 2001