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The Epidemic
I Am Compltley Oprationa L
Ache Records


As much as we all want to be Radiohead, most of us do not go out with our samplers, take a random sampling of technological and generally unearthly noises, accumulate equally sterile and desperate artwork, mix in some drum machines and striated guitar lines, and call the result: I Am Compltley Oprationa L.  Of course, this critique runs the risk that the Epidemic has never listened to Ok Computer, or that having listened to that album, they fall into the small group of people that do not define their lives around it.  Perhaps unfortunately, every album that concerns itself with the fragility of the individual against the supposed technological cures of sleeping pills, professional responsibilities, and airports (to the degree that these are used as outlets for existential angst) will be compared with the experimental Brits.  But if you throw in disjointed phrases for lyrics and juxtapose lullaby-ish and delicate atmospheres against off-kilter drum machine beats and intentionally awkward and distracting loops, you asked for it.

Perhaps this explains why the insert contains as little information about the band as possible.  The insert does contain pictures of a building, focusing on the windows as mirrors and highlighting the white and blue coloration.  The remainder of the artwork incorporates hand-drawn images and random signs silhouetted against pictures of skies, streetlights, barbed wire, buildings, tiles, and other objects mis-focused into obscurity.  The signs include: bar codes, computer keyboards, computer code, emergency signs, and random numbers and letters.  Whites, blues, deep greens, and grays make up the majority of the color scheme.  Only the stick figures with large heads are missing.

The music itself delivers some interesting sections, but the songs soon seem to be directed more by influence than inspiration.  The Epidemic simply do not have enough ideas on this record to compose any vision that can be considered substantial.  Most of the songs either rely on a few random phrases that utilize the central motif of the album.  This motif relies on the use of disjunction, often in conjunction with repetition.  This disjunction includes the misspellings of the title (“compltely” and “oprationa l”); lyrics (around two o’clock, round two: clock versus city from “The West Coast as a Robot” and How in the way is your hand?  How in the way your hand is from “Torn from the Head”); and the music itself which often relies on a loop intentionally placed offbeat or sections repeated without lining up the same way each time.  The Epidemic use this motif thoroughly but rarely with any penetration.  Kid A also employs this style, and a comparison quickly reveals where it succeeds.  The repetition of lyrics in “Everything in Its Right Place” conveys frustration, confusion, and desperation (insinuating that everything is not in its right place); the loops of “Kid A” mix a lullaby with a carnival, a computer voice with a pitch-man, and again the result is eerie and twistedly calm; “National Anthem” frantically tries to maintain a sense of cohesion and unity against a tumult of brass noise.  That album uses the tools of repetition and disjunction to render the extreme personal drama of understanding identity as a positive and creative endeavor in a world that continually undercuts this hope more persuasive.  For the Epidemic, these tools create a minor ripple that registers more as a game than as the ultimate problem of our existence.

The music does contain moments of insight, but these never congeal into a substantial vision.  Most of the interesting work occurs on the guitar:  the first, third, and fifth tracks each contain guitar lines with a strong sense of movement that balances fluidity and awkward timing.  This balance would make a greater thematic point if carried throughout the music, but the keyboards and percussion do not contain this sense of struggle in an honest and dramatic sense.  The peculiarities of percussion are mostly artificial – there is no sense of a beat struggling against itself, but rather a programmer attempting to be complex.  This sense of artificiality pervades the album.  Unfortunately, the approach does not describe the wrestling of an individual against this artificiality; it reveals instead a band’s attempt to recreate a perceived notion of artificiality from the world.  Aside from a few guitar tracks, no sense of struggle exists.

A vast gap remains between the recognition that our world contains numerous technologically inspired pitfalls and the ability to cast these pitfalls in such a light as to show how overwhelming they can seem and how desperate must be our attempts to overcome them.  In music or any medium trying to capture this, repetition and syncopation can imply a maze-like quality, a sense of running into a wall whose solution is written right before you in a code that is at once hideously untranslatable and yet deeply consistent with the turmoil in your head.  But these tools only supply the form of the maze.  The Epidemic have hinted at a miniature version of this maze, but they do not give a sense of urgency for escaping it or the tools for doing so.  I Am Compltley Oprationa L fails in its inability to encompass the totality of this struggle.

Matt King

Track Listing:

  1. The West Coast As A Robot
  2. Torn From The Head
  3. Lines Of Tomorrow
  4. The Shortness Of Breath
  5. An Introduction
  6. Robert Smith Vs. Crosstown Music
  7. Boom, For Real
  8. Once Upon A Time There Was A Prints
  9. If You Lived Here You’d Be Home By Now

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