Review: ANT-BEE – Electronic Church Muzik

ANT-BEE is essentially a studio project with Billy James assembling a kind of dream-team of 60s/70s psychedelic/progressive/avant-rock veterans including former members of Captain Beefheart’s Magic Band and Zappa’s Mothers of Invention as well as Peter Banks, Jan Akkerman and both Daevid Allen and Gilli Smyth from Gong (this is by no means an exhaustive list, incidentally).

From what I can glean through the lyrics, samples of hymns, church organs etc. not to mention the rather splendid album art (a glossy gatefold slipcase designed inside and out to look like a musty, leatherbound Bible or hymn book), Electronic Church Muzik is an often rather personal exploration of organised religion (particularly Christianity), and ANT-BEE has attempted to shape these various guest contributions around this overarching theme. Sadly, this isn’t always successful. It’s hard to see how Jan Akkerman’s (admittedly beautiful) soloing on Mannah, for example, helps to serve this theme, nor is it easy to get a sense of ANT-BEE’s own identity through Gilli Smyth providing her trademark “space whisper”, Daevid Allen delivering a faintly embarrassing pseudo-rap or Napoleon Murphy Brock belting out a cover of Todd Rundgren’s Don’t You Ever Learn?.

But this is only one side of the coin. By far the most interesting and successful pieces on this disc are the ones without any guest musicians – usually taking the form of musique concrète  sound collages, electronics and tape manipulations. Hallelujah, for example, is an engaging little mash-up of plainsong and grimy, rave-like electronics. These kinds of tracks, in addition to being far more contemporary in tone than the been-there-done-that psychedlic rock and guest-spot excursions they’re jostling for position with, they also seem to serve the album’s concept far more effectively.

It’s a pity that this album is being promoted on the strength of its guest stars given that, by and large, I personally find that they only serve to slow down and dilute the more original aspects of the record. Delightful though it is to hear Rockette Morton and Zoot Horn Rollo laying down a toe-tapping blues jam, tracks like that simply get in the way of ANT-BEE’s own strengths as a sound artist; weaving audio samples and electronics into strange narratives and thoughtful juxtapositions. Hopefully for ANT-BEE’s next record he’ll do away with (or at least drastically pare down) the guest-list and concentrate on this far more rewarding aspect of his practice.


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