Ant-Bee: Electronic Church Muzik
Even after spending some serious time with them, some album remains slightly mystifying and so it is with Electronic Church Muzik by Ant-Bee. The band itself is the brainchild of Billy James who has released another two albums plus some cassette only releases as Ant-Bee, all of which have gained recognition as "underground" classics. So if, like me, this is the first time you've encountered this insect named outfit, what do get? Well on the strength of Electronic Church Muzik the answer would appear to be some interesting and oddly compelling avant-garde fusion with loads of spoken word samples and atmospheric textures, which are punctuated by some startlingly straight forward songs of different styles. For example "Living" is a great slice of harmony laced, but psyched out sixties rock that comes on like the Beach Boys covering early Pink Floyd, while "Mannah" is a strange acoustic shred-fest, sounding like someone made a hybrid of Steve Vai and Cajun guitarist Adrian Legg. Both songs are convincing little listening experiences in their own right, but when bookended by church organs, and what sounds like religious services the effect is (I'm sure intentionally) jarring. In fact after my fifth or sixth run through of this disc, I actually wondered if I wasn't listening to two albums that had amalgamated into one. The frustrating thing for this first time listener is that I actually really enjoyed both aspects of the album – the genre shifting music as well as the samples and atmospherics, but I struggled to make it all work as a whole listening experience.
Surprisingly for an album of this nature there are also a host of guest contributors, with Jan Akkerman (Focus), Peter Banks (Yes), David Allen and Gilli Smyth (Gong), Michael Bruce (Alice Cooper), Napoleon Murphy Brock (Zappa), Zoot Horn Rollo and Rockette Morton (Captain Beefheart's Magic Band), Don Preston, Bunk Gardner, Buzz Gardner, Motorhead and Jimmy Carl Black (Mothers of Invention), and Moogy Klingman (Todd Rundgren's Utopia) all showing up at one point or another. Impressive though that list may be, I'm not actually sure that it helps the flow of the album either as the change in approaches and playing styles adds to the scattergun effect of much of the music.
The album title, the fact that the card sleeve is "leather-bound" and made to look like a bible, along with the continuing church-like and prayer themes in the samples, means there is a deeply religious seam running through the album, although I'm still not quite sure whether the overall tone is reverential, or questioning to be honest. The effect created is hugely atmospheric and the production makes some of the more avant-garde moments feel huge, although to someone who has little interest in this area it can all become a little tiring.
Electric Church Muzik is an album that has too many qualities not to revisit it again to try and decipher further what is going on and to be fair subsequent listens continue to reveal more aural delights. However as a coherent album of considerable length there's no question that it will continue to be a difficult, awkward journey.
3. The Language Of The Body
4. Eye Of Agamoto
5. The Guff (Hall Of Souls)
6. Mallard Flies Toward Heaven
7. Ant-Bee's Sunday Supper
8. Flutter-Bye, Butter-Flye
9. Endless Journey
10. The Light
12. Psalm 23
14. The Wrath - Part One
15. Secrets Of The Dead
16. Pennies From Heaven
17. The Wrath - Part Two
18. The Lord's Prayer
20. Don't You Ever Learn
22. Final Benediction
Added: April 17th 2011
Reviewer: Steven Reid
Related Link: Ant-Bee Official Web Site
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