Avant Hard
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Label : Mute Records



The inevitable quandary: is it art? Or is it, in the cleverest possible way, arse? Ever since Marcel Duchamp exhibited a urinal in a Paris gallery in 1917 and called it ‘Fountain’, the debate has raged. And rage it most certainly does as we swap disciplines and apply similarly skewed logic to music. In particular, to the music of Add N To X, who on this, their third album, have either made the best speaker-shudderingly rock album you’ll hear this year, or have merely moved blithely on to Phase Three of their bid to become a permanent fixture in the vaults of the Tate Gallery’s forthcoming Museum Of Modern Art.

We’ll plump for the former, largely because beneath the London trio’s eccentric extracurricular activities – they’ve worked with Turner Prize winner Chris Ofili and are currently writing a novel on the Internet – there lies a band buoyed by such terrific imagination, self-belief and musical vision that if they want to make a conceptual record about man’s physical and metaphysical relationship with technology, then they will. And the experience, on the whole, will be like wiring an orchestra into a faulty electrical circuit. Brave and exhilarating, yes, but an act which would leave most of us unable to operate heavy machinery for some time.

Though not, of course, Barry SmithAnn Shenton and Steve Claydon, whose command of bulky vintage synthesisers has reached new levels of proficiency. Unlike previous adventures in analogue, they now control the energy which surges through their machines (and, no doubt, their veins) with masterful aplomb and new-found grace. It’s the fearsome force that demolishes skyscrapers on ‘Robot New York’ and charges the deviant sex toys brandished throughout ‘Metal Fingers In My Body’. It is, in a vigorously vivid sense, the power of love.

The climax occurs during the Wagnerian majesty of the album’s centrepiece, ‘Revenge Of The Black Regent’, a heady procession of orchestral madness and military rhythm which pits former Orbital and Tricky collaborator Alison Goldfrapp‘s psycho-operatics against the might of genetically modified technology. From then on, ‘Avant Hard’ enjoys a blissful reverie, as distant horses literally gallop across ‘Ann’s Eveready Equestrian’ while the sublime ‘Machine Is Bored With Love’ proves that romance, even at this late stage, was always on the agenda.

Meanwhile, we’re off to the gallery. There’s this installation – three people in weird clothes – it’s causing quite a scene. Some say it’s priceless.