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Naked City - Leng Tch'e CD (album) cover

LENG TCH'E

Naked City

 

RIO/Avant-Prog

2.66 | 16 ratings

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Conor Fynes
Prog Reviewer
4 stars 'Leng Tch'e' - Naked City (7/10)

When it comes to Western definitions of music, quality is generally seen to be derived from melodies, cohesive structure, the effectiveness of harmonies, and so forth. With so much music tending to focus on melodies over anything else, the objective differences brought forth by some avant-garde artists makes for a refreshing change of pace. Most often though, the more outside music gets from the norm, the more open it is to controversy. While far from the weirdest thing I have ever heard, Naked City's 'Leng Tch'e' is indeed an album that has sparked many a heated argument, with polar opinions reaching around the board. Both the greatly supportive praise, and revolted detraction of the album has led to a certain amount of hype surrounding the album, and while my opinion of the record may tend to be more moderate than most, I can certainly see why 'Leng Tch'e' has sparked such polarity among listeners.

First hearing about the album earlier today regarding what some people considered to be among 'the worst albums ever created', I was interested in hearing what these heated opinions were all about, perhaps out of the same morbid curiosity that fueled the making of this album. As some may know already, 'Leng Tch'e' refers to a Chinese method of torture and execution that I will leave to the reader to look up; suffice to say, it does not sound like the sort of thing you would want to bring up at a dinner party, lest you want to put the guests off their meals indefinitely. The music Naked City has created here really reflects the concept of slow, painful torture through abrasive and doomy guitar textures, set to a slowly, but steadily building level of intensity that flows through the half-hour track. For someone looking for the finer points of music, there aren't any here; no melodies, or much in the way of musical arrangement. Instead, John Zorn and his crew have crafted a dark soundtrack only with some minimalistic drum work, brooding guitar distortion, and some strained saxophones that burst in as the piece hits its climax.

From that description alone, it is easy to see why so many people may be averted to the sound of this album. This is challenging music, but it is not necessarily complex in its orchestration. There are not many, if any subtle nuances to the album's arrangement. Instead, one cannot appreciate 'Leng Tch'e' through conventional standards of musical enjoyment, but instead approach it by concentrating on the meticulous way in which the guitar feedback is used to create unsettling textures. Above all, the focus of 'Leng Tche' is to create atmosphere, and if that was what Zorn set out to do here, than he damn well accomplished it.

The vibe of torture and pain makes for an uneasy listen, and things are made even more off-putting by the vocals that emerge about half way through this album. Overtop the ambient guitar sludge and ominous drums, an ear-piercing scream lets loose. This isn't the sort of scream one might typically associate with doom metal, metal, or music in general. This is the sort of scream that exemplifies fear and duress, and it becomes an integral part of the musical experience for the second half of the album. While not musical in any way, the screams add tonnes to the fearful atmosphere of the album, and it adds alot to the imagery one could probably conjure in their minds while listening to the album. The vocals do start to wear thin after fifteen minutes; it is clear that the screamer tries to change up his act as the final half streches on, but his short vocal experiments don't always work, and sometimes sound like a simian howling for bananas rather than a human being executed. The album's short length is perfect for an album like this; were it any longer, the album's rather simplistic and primal nature would have robbed the best of it, and worn thin. 'Leng Tch'e' is not the sort of album that would have done well at any normal album length. It is fairly low on ideas, but the ideas that are here are extended and developed to just the right length, although any more would have taken it to the level of boredom, which the album does teeter on at points.

So there you have it; Naked City's 'Leng Tch'e', an album rightfully disdained by many, and even coming from someone who enjoys the album, it is easy to see why. The incredibly dark subject matter and abrasive content is not the sort of thing that will appeal to everyone; in fact, even alot of progressive music fans won't find much to appreciate here. All the same, 'Leng Tch'e' is an album with a wealth of haunting atmosphere to it, and although difficult to recommend to many outside of the noise or drone music communities, it has left a positive impression on me.

Conor Fynes | 4/5 |

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