This is just wrong.
Spahn Ranch have, in their vocalist Athan Maroulis, a singer as dramatic and gravitas-laden as David Gahan or Marc Almond (almost), and they’re wasting him on Beat Noir‘s paper-thin experimentation. Athan should not be attempting to sing along to handbag house, big beat karaoke, or badly-executed dub, because his vocals don’t work in these settings. I’m not saying it’s a limitation, but his style is just too epic for much of the electronica drek of Beat Noir. For instance, the beginning of “Remnants” ends up sounding like a crazed Matt Green is holding a gun up to his head and forcing him to imitate Michael Stipe in that annoying song about the end of the world and screaming, “Sing faster, you bastard!!” Athan should not be sounding like 2 Unlimited, and what was with that “bless you” BAD-esque nonsense? If you heard him sing “Ulysses” on the recent Dead Can Dance tribute album, now that is his territory. Athan should be singing epic tragedies of love and loss in front of full orchestras like Scott Walker, hiding behind dark glasses and cradling a bottle of red wine. Then, by god, when he throws his scarf into the audience the lucky boy or girl who catches it should faint in bliss, as the rest of the faithful pave his way with roses. I’ll move on, if you admit that “Ride Like Lightning, Crash Like Thunder” is boring drum and bass filler.
“Dubnosis” is a half-assed and badly-executed dub rhythm track. It hurts me even more to dismiss this track when godhead David J guests on bass. Yet with Kevin Martin and Richie Hawtin all but reinventing the dub form, this is not the best time to present an amateur how-to pastiche. Bloody hell, there is even a spoken sample intoning “Dub!” over and over again.
“Fire Lives In The Hearts Of All Men” might as well be wearing a Chemical Brothers T-shirt for all the new territory being blazed. That goes for much of the album, only you can insert the words “Death In Vegas” or “Prodigy” if you feel like it. Sometimes I feel like I am listening to a rather crap “modern ‘electronica'” compilation instead of a cohesive album.
I’d be a hypocrite if I said that experimentation was a bad thing, but I think Spahn Ranch needs to seriously sit down and decide where they want to go from here. Lots of bands have recovered from similarly disastrous forays, but I fear that in Beat Noir, Spahn Ranch may have lost any semblance of an original sound that they ever had. Cleopatra Records, 13428 Maxella #251, Marina Del Rey , CA 90292