REVIEW: John Rifle: Fracas Nurture
John Rifle: Fracas Nurture [Rabbit Surgeon Musics, 2002]
Three words? Baffling contemporary art
Contemporary art is a baffling ordeal; minimalism and “shocking” imagery are the main ingredients of the day. In museums we enter large rooms with dull, mishapen pieces of metal, titles such as “Movement IV: The End Of Sorrow,” and essays alongside to explain what we're looking at. I end up walking away even more confused than when I walked in. The other side of the coin has artists defacing religious or popular imagery, or placing them into new contexts - making a statement in the process. Sometimes this works, but once the initial shock passes, the work has no lasting value.
The problem with a lot of contemporary art is that it is not visually engaging – a basic tenet of art – and while artists are seeking to break that very rule, they alienate their audience in the very same move.
John Rifle’s Fracas Nurture could easily be called a failed sound artwork. This strange album boasts nine musicians and an additional “principal cast” of eight. Spanning 25 tracks, Rifle mixes beats, heavy keyboard pieces, and almost unceasing samples that dominate the mix and create what the band calls “their response to the morally bankrupt state of today's popular culture.”
Though they cite their sample sources, ranging from The Doors Interviewed to Radiohead: Live @ The Ten Spot to Red Foxx: Laff Of The Party to One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, it’s incredibly hard to pinpoint any one statement or statements that the group is trying to make. It's more difficult still as they don’t mention what samples appear on each cut. The most obvious attacks are on the cult of celebrity, but what specifically the band is trying to say is not so easily apparent. Finally, the album artwork lacks any formal liner notes (or essays): all we're left with is the recording, and information on the band's members.
Now, this isn’t to say political albums or music must have disseratations to accompany them. Groups such as Fugazi and Public Enemy have written very political songs without the need for explanation booklets. But even when political imagery is used, such as with the now defunct Rage Against The Machine, it tends to be singular and direct: there's no need to root through books and research papers to “get it”.
Fracas Nurture is an ambitious failure. It’s an album that would have worked better as an essay - and with its thesis more clearly defined. John Rifle definitely have an interesting sound - minus the overbearing sampling, it would not be unlike the piano melodies of Coldplay’s Chris Martin, mixed with vibrant beats. I look forward to hearing their sophomore effort – this time, I hope, sans political polemic.