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The Residents - Not Available CD (album) cover

NOT AVAILABLE

The Residents

 

RIO/Avant-Prog

3.97 | 75 ratings

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VanVanVan
Prog Reviewer
3 stars The small amount of Residents material I've heard has always been a bit of a mixed bag for me. For every moment of pure, avant-garde genius, it seems there is a moment where silliness was given priority over composition. Not that there's anything wrong with silliness, but there comes a point where it becomes a hindrance. I can't help but be impressed by some of the stuff on this album, but I also can't help but wonder why anyone thought that repeating the same few words in what is frankly a pretty annoying tone of voice was a good way to take up several minutes of album space. So in my opinion there are a lot of flaws here. That said, there's also a ton of innovative and original music here, and that's something that should never be undervalued.

'Edweena' begins with an abrupt burst of sound before immediately charging into a vaguely middle eastern, vaguely jazzy, vaguely dissonant section featuring what sounds like a timpani and some sort of horn. Some bizarre, high-pitched vocals make an appearance as well before the track suddenly switches into a more laid back theme and slower vocals (that sound distorted and sound completely stoned out) that enter and sing for a while, fading in and out of tune and sliding from pitch to pitch. Before the 5 minute mark the track makes yet another turn, this time featuring piano, horn, and vocals in a style that almost sounds like, of all things, Comus. Something about the high pitched vocals and overall ambience is very reminiscent of that group. There's a brief a capella section featuring those same tuneless, sliding vocals before some earlier themes get a reprise and the track comes to an end. 'Edweena' has some very good moments, but it's also very disjointed, even for avant-garde music, which in my opinion makes for a rather mixed listening experience.

'The Making of a Soul' begins with the same tribal drum and horn combination that appeared on 'Edweena.' Some wordless vocals add additional percussion effects to this mix before a brief lyrical section leads the track into a piano solo (which I find to be actually quite pretty). This is augmented by some equally lush strings and over the entire mix a half- spoken vocal line is delivered, in a very strange, high pitched, raspy tone. Following this is a bizzaro-folk section with a kind of demented honky-tonk sound. The instrumentation is constantly added to, with the track getting noisier and noisier, until everything drops out, leaving only some minimal keyboards and percussion over which a strange vocal mantra is repeatedly delivered. The track concludes with a wash of synthesizer and a final, dissonant, vocal harmony.

'Ship's A' Going Down' is probably the strangest track to appear on the album up to this point, and that's really saying something. With dissonant, slightly arrhythmic horns and vocals delivered to sound like the singer can't breathe properly, this track seems to have gone fully insane where the previous two were only slightly nutty. Featuring sections that contain nothing more than distorted, spoken-word vocals and others that make use of the same asphyxiating vocals over keyboard parts that would be very peaceful in any other context, the song probably hits the apex of its insanity in its middle third, which features no vocals except the constant repetition of the title phrase in various states of panic. Following this, however, there's a really excellent experimental horn part. I wouldn't be surprised to learn that Toby Driver had been inspired by this album when writing some of his own horn parts, and I mean that as a compliment. Albums that sound anything like Toby Driver's work are few and far between, and to hear one sound so similar in 1978 is really a testament to the fact that whatever else the Residents were, they were certainly forward-thinking.

'Never Known Questions' again begins with a minimalistic, somewhat tribal percussion part. Groovy keyboards establish a repeating line over this and more of the slightly-off, almost- dissonant vocals that have been ubiquitous on the album begin singing over this. Were it not for the off kilter vocals, however, the opening section of this track would be a fairly accessible piece of music. Midway through the track, however, the music abruptly fades out and an entirely new theme enters, with rasping, nonsensical narration and some minimal keyboards that eventually develop into a full-on, eastern sounding, almost folky backing section. Really, if not for the bizarre vocals this would be fairly accessible.

'Epilogue' is essentially just a reprise of some of the themes from 'Edweena,' though there is some variation towards the end with some cinematic synths that are actually very pleasant. Not too much else to say about this one; it gives the album a nice sense of circularity and it closes out the album on a pleasant note.

Overall, though, as a work of experimental music, Not Available has never really clicked for me as much as it seems to have for some people. While it's certainly a boundary pushing release, it often seems to me that the group is trying harder to be strange then they are to make genuinely interesting music, and Not Available simply isn't charming enough in its weirdness for that to work. Don't get me wrong, it certainly has plenty of good moments (90% of 'The Making of a Soul' is absolutely brilliant), and it's worth a listen for anyone who likes this kind of bizarre, off-kilter music, but in my opinion this is far from being a masterpiece of experimentalism.

3/5

VanVanVan | 3/5 |

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