I really have to wonder if there is anyone working in music today who is as prolific as JG Thirlwell. Just keeping track of his various nom de plumes is a challenge. As “JG Thirlwell” he is currently providing the music for the wonderfully subversive Venture Bros. show on Adult Swim. But that is merely the tip of the iceberg. Beginning the early eighties, he took the name “Foetus” to release his “rock” oriented music, with four-letter titles such as Nail, Limb, and his most recent Hide. Beyond that he has branched out considerably with Steroid Maximus and Manorexia.
Thirlwell’s most recent release is Dinoflagellate Blooms, issued under the Manorexia moniker. As is the case with the previous Manorexia titles, Thirlwell finds interesting juxtapositions between relatively obscure scientific terms that have little (or maybe everything) to do with the instrumental music within. Personally, I always look forward to each Manorexia release, because this is where some of the man’s most experimental sounds tend to wind up. Dinoflagellate Blooms is no exception.
There is a marked tendency to play certain tones off of each other during many of the album’s 11 tracks. Those not familiar with Thirlwell’s style might consider some of the results dissonant, but not if they are really listening. For example, the opening track “Cryogenics” begins with a segment that reminds me somewhat of where the Art Ensemble went during their magnum opus People In Sorrow. Like that very avant-garde 40-minute piece, “Cryogenics” has a great deal to say, although it is a much shorter track at only 3:18. What it does provide is a suitably thought-provoking beginning for a disc that gets very dark at times.
The very next cut, “Anabiosis,” clocks in at 8:16, and is almost frightening at times. This is a new version of a tune originally comissioned for the Bang On A Can ensemble, and Thirlwell gives it a suitably over the top rendition. The lengthiest track is titled “Krzystl,” and best sums up what I have always enjoyed about Thirlwell’s music, no matter what name it is given. Beginning with what sounds like either breaking glass, or radio crystals exploding of their own volition, this is definitely not what one would call “easy listening.” But Thirlwell has never been interested in simply traveling down the usual listener-friendly path. He unflaggingly expresses what is in his heart, and if that is not all peaches and cream, then tough luck.
For this listener, the physical and spiritual center of Dinoflagellate Blooms is “A Plastic Island In The Pacific.” Like those of us who do not have our heads in the sand, it is obvious that Thirlwell is very disturbed by the recent discovery of a virtual island of plastic grocery bags and the like steadily growing in the Pacific Ocean. I just read about an extremely disturbing fact that one in ten fish caught in the Pacific have plastic debris in their stomach. How can that possibly be good? Manorexia perform a moving lament to this ominous development with the 7:26 composition.
The theme of mankind moving towards a slow, and inevitable suicide seems to continue through the remainder of the album. It may be the whole point for all I know, but with “Plastic Island’s” title, it is spelled out specifically. One of the greatest things about instrumental music is that nothing is fixed; the listener brings whatever they want to the experience, nothing more or less. Continuing on from “A Plastic Island In The Pacific” is “Hydrofrack,” which begins with what sounds like an electronic reproduction of a whale song.
“The Perfect Patsy” follows and may or may not signal a return to more mundane concerns. It is a compelling piece, in any event. The abbreviated (0:23) “Hoarse Platitudes” works as an introduction to “Vika,” another intriguing track whose ambience suggests a song recorded underwater. “Kinaesthesia” is the longest of the second half of the disc at 8:47. This is a tour de force, with what could be construed as the sound of an emergency signal leading things off before a wave of powerful yet subdued sonics take over. Finally we come to “Struck” in which Thirlwell’s vision seems to leave us at a crossroads between Armageddon, and possible peace with our environment.
These observations are mine and mine alone. I feel like I stand on solid ground with “A Plastic Island In The Pacific,” but beyond that, I am just going with my heart. These opinions could be wildly off-base. This is one of the joys of listening to a recording such as Dinoflagellate Blooms though. Every exposure to it can lead to new insights, or none at all. The Thirlwell-designed cover art showing a series of hypodermic needles and capsules may offer some completely different clues for people as well.
In keeping with the artist’s unflagging embrace of new technology, the set contains a bonus 5.1 DVD of the album besides the standard CD. The deluxe 2-disc set is available exclusively through Foetus.org. In a rare instance of adding a guest artist to a Manorexia recording, Kenny Wollesen plays autoharp and piano strings on “Cryogenics.”
As Feral House publisher Adam Parfrey once put it, “Thirlwell always amazes me.” I heartily agree – In his many guises over the past 30 years, JG Thirlwell has provided some of the most consistently fascinating music produced in any genre. Read more about him on Blogcritics here.