The Desert Fathers
Like a dog’s urine on a tree, the mark of Steve Albini is all over The Desert Fathers’ debut album, and neither the band’s pretentious theistic masquerade nor the monotony of these self-indulgent studio escapades can disguise that. Listen to The Spirituality just for a moment and you can hear distinct echoes of the producer/engineer’s former projects with Nirvana, Shellac, Helmet, The Breeders, Silkworm, et al rising like specters out of this sonic swamp: the dull thump of the 4/4 drumbeat, the repetitive grind and whine of the guitars, the drone and chug of the bass. Matt Talbot (ex-Hum), Greg Norman (Detachment Kit, Zwan) and various others have also been given the chance to tinker with the controls (and tinker they have), which may explain some of the minor deviations from the familiar Albini formula on this album.
Actually, it’s a misnomer to refer to The Spirituality as a full-length album. It’s an EP with padding. Removing the obvious fluff — “Angus Dei” (trite mock chanting), “Evolution” (an impersonation of an old man refuting Darwin followed by a bland instrumental), “Gloria in Excelsis [sic] Deo” (eh? four minutes of sounds resembling ambient clock chimes?) and “Transmorph” (excessive fiddling with the volume and balance knob) — cuts the total tracks to six with a running time of around 20 minutes. Keep in mind that this release took four years and seven studios to complete.
Are those twenty minutes at least well used? Well, I suppose they aren’t a complete waste. The Desert Fathers have brought together shoegazer-like soundscapes, the devil-may-care ethos of post- and indie rock, the raw energy of metal and the digital head-trip of electronica, and on top of this they’ve managed to fashion something not only listenable but (in places) moderately appealing. “Peace in That” is a particularly fine example of this. Lacking a general sense of cohesion, however, it often tends more toward pastiche than fusion.
Acquaman (of The Forms), Levitas and The Real — yes, these are the pseudonyms they choose to go by — may yet end up assembling something fresh and interesting based on what they’ve started here. To do so, they first need to drop the sophisticated hipster pose-striking. Then they need to acquire basic time management skills (four years of effort is far too long for such slim returns). Finally, and perhaps most important, they need to climb out of Albini’s shadow without losing his valuable direction and support. No matter how original their songs might be, once fed through this infamous “engineering” process they will invariably sound like those of many, many others. The Spirituality isn’t a bad beginning, but, if you’ll allow me to indulge them in their religious metaphor, The Desert Fathers had better construct their own unique place of worship quickly, lest they end up in years of aimless self-seeking wandering.