Negativland | Helter Stupid

Sometimes I feel like the stupidest person alive. Usually when reading my own blog, or thinking about past actions. Which is why I like thinking about music instead, writing new blog posts and then never reading them. Negativland is not stupid. I think they should be more well known, but their work requires context which you don’t really get with mp3s and most people don’t have the patience for anyway. And it’s tough to dance to for any meaningful length of time. That can’t help.

But forget about that. This is great album, easily their best. Even among Negativland records, it’s more of a disorienting conceptual collage piece than their records up to this point in their career of disorienting conceptual collage pieces that more of less take the form of “songs”. This is pretty much just two long pieces. I think of it as a bridge between their regular song-y albums and their radio distillation comp series Over the Edge and a sequel to previous album Escape From Noise.

Mark Hosler speaks on the origin of Helter Stupid

Around the same time I got this record, I also saw the movie Man Bites Dog. Pre-Wikieverything, I was obsessed with the idea of unprovability. Man Bites Dog presents itself as a mockumentary, what if it’s real? It does take place in France…anything could happen in France, right? There was no way to look it up. And this whole story of Negativland’s could be made up. A “hoax of a hoax” seemed a completely plausible premise for a record to me. If they could make this record, which is an amazing feat of editing, recording, and trickery, it’s not that much more of a step to imagine the news reports interspliced throughout (and on the sleeve) being faked themselves. It does take place in California…

Of course now you even look up the original news footage:

It’s almost no fun. I even got this one before Escape, years before, so it was even more mysterious. Plus if you watch the whole talk linked to above, Hosler explains that many of the sources are in fact “fake found” in origin. The ambiguity of the source material adds to the moral ambiguity or even the artistic ambiguity of the whole thing. No matter how well it hangs together you’ve got to admit they’ve made some odd choices.

The original track from Escape, “Christianity Is Stupid” comes off like a parody of the anti-religious Industrial music of the 80s. “Helter Stupid” (the track) is essentially an extended remix that replaces the bleak dirgy guitar backdrop with Bebu Silvetti’s dizzying disco instrumental “Spring Rain”. But that would be something you could dance to. It soon splinters off into numerous tangents, sample loops and cut-ups. Some lead to some kind of political or philosophic point, others are complete red herrings. Is there too much Dada or not enough? You’re going to need headphones and they aren’t going to help.

Then…there’s side two. I’m a fan of side two as well but it’s got nothing to do with any of this. It continues the general theme of media deconstruction, but it’s entirely about music radio: finding “The Perfect Cut”. If you listen to the album strait through it kinda works as a sick pun, but that makes the album as a whole a bit weaker. This is an album that needs the sides separate. I even like the thing more now since my only working tape machine doesn’t have auto-reverse and a side ends with a big clunk. You can still get it on tape for cheap. I don’t have a special thing for tapes really, they were just cheaper or the only format available for rarer stuff. But Negativland on tape is kinda cool cause they really cut up tapes for a lot of it, it’s like Endtroducing being so much better on vinyl. (I’m sure this album also sounds better on vinyl, whatever. You got an unlimited budget, that’s awesome.) I’ve given into buying mp3s at this point but don’t cheat yourself on this one is all I’m saying. %

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