Burning Star Core – Challenger (Plastic) LP

August 22, 2009 at 9:00 am 2 comments

Burning Star Core - Challenger

Burning Star Core - Challenger

Bad news readers: the album is dead. But then you read the Internet, so you already know that. Seriously though, it should be clear to just about anyone that the full-length album is becoming less and less relevant to the way people consume music.

Some smart characters have been pointing out that the American avant rock underground pretty much abandoned the album (as we know it) some time ago. Today’s US underground acts eschew the annual “event” album in favour of constantly issuing new works in a variety of unconventional formats (cassette, CDR, lathe cut…)

So, it seems that the mainstream music industry and the indier-than-thou underground can agree on one thing: the album – as previously noted – is dead. It should come as no surprise that the music industry is maintaining its verve for trying to fix things that ain’t broken but you’d think the underground would know better.

The thing is – as a format for presenting music – the full-length vinyl LP simply hasn’t been surpassed. Nothing is quite as satisfying as two sides of thoughtfully compiled, professionally cut wax. Wouldn’t you prefer to release one brilliant album a year rather than shitting out a stinky stream of musical diarrhoea? All those lathe cuts and tapes? You think anyone wants to listen to that shit?*

On the surface, C. Spencer Yeh – aka Burning Star Core – pretty much typifies the US underground’s tourettic approach to releasing music. Doubtless there’s a website somewhere that will allow you to gaze in wonder at Yeh’s voluminous discography. Mark E. Rich claims to own a cassette featuring nothing but unadorned  recordings of Yeh making weird noises with his voice.

The thing is, though, every now and then, Yeh releases a “proper” album. Take Challenger – which was released on CD last year and seems to have emerged on vinyl some time later. Everything about this release says “significant album”, starting with the prog pastiche cover and the opening title track, which rolls out some appropriately space-age synth work.

The space prog mood is not maintained throughout though. Indeed, what makes Challenger such an old-school full-length is the sheer variety of the tracks. By contemporary standards, this seems like a compilation – the summation of a long period of work, presenting the best bits and editing out the failed experiments.

There’s a kind of artistic arrogance inherent in this – one that doesn’t jibe well with the mood of faux egalitarianism and Gumpism that blights our culture. Who is C. Spencer Yeh to tell us which of his jam sessions turned out well? The bastard!

Well, at least he gives us plenty to choose from – thanks to the album’s aforementioned variety. Challenger moves between a number of abstract sound modes, deploying a wealth of analogue and digital noise-making gear. And while they certainly drift through some pretty deep space, the tracks are short and structured enough to count as songs, in the broadest sense. And the songs are compiled in a manner that creates an extremely engaging overall experience.

In other words, Challenger is an album – a great album. Turns out reports of the album’s demise have been slightly exaggerated. Stupid Internet! If the album was dead, you wouldn’t be able to buy Challenger from Forced Exposure.

(*Obviously, this is an exaggeration, used to make a point – the American avant rock underground produces plenty of perfectly decent music.)

Entry filed under: avant rock, MP3s, noise, reviews. Tags: , , , .

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2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Mark E. Rich  |  September 2, 2009 at 9:09 am

    Glad to see you finally found the time to come around to this one. Out of all my ´noise´albums purchased in 2008, Challenger is the one I keep coming back to. Funny thing is, I still prefer his actual noise albums (ie. Operator Dead and his numerous collaborations with Hair Police, Hototogisu, Wiese etc), but I find myself going to them less and less since Challenger arrived on the scene. Most likely due to the fact that, yes, this LP works as an album much better than his previous onslaughts. Outside of a few live cassettes, Spencer has been pretty quiet lately. Lets hope he´s got another album waiting up his sleeve.

  • 2. Biggie Samuels  |  September 2, 2009 at 9:28 am

    Challenger is also relatively accessible and it’s natural to listen to an artist’s easier-listening albums more often even if you actually prefer the noisier work. For instance, I prefer Fennesz’s Plus 48 Degrees to Venice but I’m not always in the mood for something as intense as Plus 48, so…


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