Looking Back on… Not the Target Demographic: Conjure One

Not the Target Demographic Presents “What the Hell Happened Here?”, Volume One: Conjure One (This was part of an ill-conceived concept I had where I’d look at albums or projects that simply didn’t work or made no sense whatsoever; it was a good idea in theory, but in practice it didn’t have sustaining power long-term, and Beyond the Threshold basically folded not too long afterward anyway. I like this particular column at least, but yeah, it wouldn’t have worked long-term.)

Okay, far be it from me to be obtuse, but I don’t get Conjure One.

I mean, think about this a minute. Rhys Fulber, more-or-less founding member of Front Line Assembly, has been an integral part of the creation of some of the greatest industrial music ever made. (Well, depending on your definition of “greatest,” as really, some industrial is far more involved than others. If your favorite band is Eisbrecher, this might not be for you, for example.) For whatever reason, he tires of working with FLA exclusively and decides to take some time off from it to work on other music. In his time off he works on a number of side projects, one of which is the aforementioned Conjure One. For whatever reason, Fulber has managed to line up several vocalists (mostly females) to work on this project, chief among them one Ann Danielewski, AKA Poe, one of the better female singers alive today. Though her name isn’t as commercially viable as it once was (seven years is a long time to take a hiatus, and Haunted didn’t do so well), she’s still known and viable, not to mention talented as hell. (Fun story here: basically, Poe went by a pseudonym, “Jane” I believe, during the recording of this piece and others from 2001 until 2011, because some dude, Robert Edsel, bought Poe’s contract for no obvious reason and kept her tied to it for ten years. Like, literally no obvious reason: in the decade since there has been no revelations as to why he bought it, besides “he was a fan,” but why he would then essentially prevent her from making music for a fucking decade I have no goddamn clue. He seems… sane otherwise, more or less, so… I have to assume, like, owning her contract meant she’d come over and hang out or some shit, since I have nothing else to work with. Unrelated, while trying to find information about this, I found the Twitter of a Mal Katz, who doesn’t seem to be in any way related to the situation, but she seems funny and also lives in Jersey, so I feel compelled to share anyway. Fuck you, it’s my site, I’ll do what I want.)

If you were Fulber, what would YOU have done?

I don’t know what your answer was, but I’m making a fair bet that it was NOT “Why Mark, I do believe I’d spend my time ripping off Enigma”. Because that would be a BAD IDEA. (Well he is Canadian, and they like this up there, as I understand it. Also I discovered that he released a third record after I wrote this under the Conjure One label, and Free Dominguez contributed to it, because fucking of course she did.)

And yet…

Now, don’t get me wrong. I like Conjure One, I really do. (I do, actually. It’s not great but it’s cute for what it is.) But it’s more like how one likes one’s car; I’m happy with the Saturn, don’t get me wrong, but if I was expecting to be driving off the lot in a Shelby Cobra, there’s no possible way I’m going to be happy with what I have. How could you be? The same applies here: a talented musician and a talented singer get together and produce music that is… well, nowhere near what one would have expected. (No I need you to understand, this is absolutely not what would have been expected. THIS is what Front Line Assembly sounds like, THIS is what Poe sounds like, and FUCKING THIS is Conjure One. I LIKE it fine, but listen to those first two songs again, and tell me you expected anything fucking close to that.)

See, here’s the problem: both Conjure One albums (a self-titled record and Extraordinary Ways) are solid, structured albums that are well produced, well organized, and very, very boring. (J. Rose calls it “sleepy time music.”) Now, me, I’m perfectly okay with boring. I own two Enigma albums, I own an Enya album, hell, I have a CD of Gregorian Chant music in my CD rack that I’ve listened to more than once. (That is in no way a joke. It’s a boring story, but the CD is pretty interesting if you’re into that sort of thing.) Boring is a wonderful thing.

But it all comes to a little something called “context”. Context, for those who’ve heard the word but are unaware of its meaning, is essentially the facts/circumstances/events/etc that, for lack of a better way to describe it, “surround” an event. For instance, if I say, “Someone kicked in the door of my house”, the listener would think “breaking and entering”. However, and this is important, the CONTEXT of the event is that the house was on fire, the person kicking in the door was a fireman, and he was trying to put the fire out.

And that’s context. (I’d like a glass of ice water with ice.)

Now, back on topic, when I walk into the local Best Buy or FYE or whatever and I, as an example, pick up a Sven Vath CD off the rack, I have no context upon which to base this purchase, should I choose to buy it. I have no idea who Sven Vath is, I’ve heard nothing he’s made, and it won’t be until I get it home and listen to it that I will HAVE any sort of context on the album. (Yes, that’s an actual musician, and yes, I bought his CD; it sounds like Kraftwerk if someone was insane enough to release that in the late 90’s, if you’re curious.)

On the other hand, if I pick up an Aphex Twin album off the same shelf (well, okay, technically, it’s a different shelf, unless the alphabetization in the store has gone to hell), (Speaking as someone who worked in a Best Buy, don’t be surprised if that’s the case.) I have plenty of context to base this purchase on. Richard D James is an eclectic, oddball musician who I have much love and respect for, even if he did Photoshop his head onto a woman with huge boobs. Thus, the context of the situation tells me the CD would be a good investment. (Richard D. James is basically the godfather of everything awesome in electronic music and if you like electronic music, but not Aphex Twin, you’re a goddamn heathen.)

The problem is thus: the context of Conjure One says “Poe making dance industrial”, while the final product is sleepy-time music. (Oh hey I fit the term in after all, never mind.)

Now, that wouldn’t even be SO bad except for the fact that it’s BORING sleepy-time music. Ambient tracks can still be interesting in their execution and presentation; witness the aforementioned Aphex Twin, specifically the “Selected Ambient Works” series that James started his career off with, and you’ll understand what I mean. (To be fair, his idea of “ambient” was less what most folks would consider as the same.) Ambient music can be stylish and unique in its presentation, but Conjure One cannot even claim to be that. Out of two CD’s, only one song has a sound to it that touches upon being interesting. This song, “Forever Lost”, (Which you can find right here.) features vaguely interesting composition during the chorus and bridge sections, highlighted by uninteresting lyrics and a vocalist, Chemda Khalili, whose vocal range falls somewhere between Britney Spears and Free Dominguez. (This can be translated to mean “she’s okay but not good.” I love Free when she’s making Kidney Thieves tracks but her range is limited, and Britney Spears basically needs all of that post-production because without it she’s not got a lot in the tank. I would’ve probably compared her to Chibi from The Birthday Massacre, but they didn’t come along for a bit, and I can’t do it now because Chibi actually got better in the intervening time period, while Free sounds like Free, still.)  Poe, meanwhile, gets to sing over rejected Enigma beats.

The point I’m getting to, of course, is “What the Hell Happened Here”?

Hence the title. (Yes I think they got it dipshit.)

Rhys Fulber is a very talented programmer who convinced several singers, some of whom are rather talented, to make some of the most boring and bland music ever created simply for his own personal amusement. (I think he probably expected it to go somewhere, since he released three of the damn things.) I mean, Christ, Sinead O’Connor recorded a track for this man! He has been instrumental (no pun intended) in the creation of some really powerful music as a member of Front Line Assembly, but when given a chance to make music on his own, his final product ends up a boring, also-ran collection of stylistically devoid ambient music featuring uninterested vocalists, some of whom could have produced a better album if it were composed of armpit noises and the flapping together of their buttcheeks.

In the end, I’m glad Fulber is working with FLA again, because really… what the hell happened here? (I don’t think he stopped, so much as this was a side project. But yeah, compare this to, say, A Perfect Circle and… well. Anyway, I still like it, but it’s still a lot of nothing, sorry Rhys.)

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