Morrow vs. Hajduch: Foetus’ Hide

Scott Morrow is ALARM’s music editor. Patrick Hajduch is a very important lawyer. Each week they debate the merits of a different album.

Foetus: Hide

Foetus: Hide (Ectopic Ents, 10/1/10)

Morrow: Foetus is the best-known moniker of eclectic composer JG Thirlwell, whose multifarious recordings stretch across art rock, no wave, electronica, exotica, chamber music, big-band jazz, classical orchestrations, and much more.  He has fought the classification as being a forebear of industrial music, particularly for his early material, and his later projects — Steroid Maximus, Manorexia, and the material for The Venture Bros. TV show — have expanded his exotic instrumentals.

Underneath it all, his material as Foetus has tied the aesthetics together, with eccentric and melodramatic vocals helping to create his “poppiest” songs.  Hide is his first studio album as Foetus since 2005.

Hajduch: I think that opening with “Cosmetics,” a bombastic, operatic 8-minute piece, may have done this album a bit of a disservice.  The song comes off as a bit tone-deaf, and the drum machine sounds particularly terrible.  By the time the Danny Elfman piano starts creeping in just past the two-minute mark, I’ve already half-tuned out.  And though “Cosmetics” is beyond saving, the album recovers — “Paper Slippers” is an understated, melancholy track, and with the baroque frills turned down to acceptable levels, Thirlwell’s songwriting stands out as much stronger.

Morrow: Ah, “Cosmetics” is one of my favorite tracks!  I love the operatic vocals, and I think that the heavy drumming sounds great in contrast.  I’m pretty sure that’s Elliot Hoffman of Car Bomb, in fact, because that sounds way too complex to be programmed that well.  After hearing “Cosmetics,” I was hoping for a few more of those thudding beats and complex fills.  And as for baroque frills — give me all you have.

I do think that most tracks, like on many Foetus albums, are hit or miss because of Thirlwell’s vocals.  Musically, I think that the whole album is outstanding, but vocally, there are moments that I just can’t get into.  However, at other times, the vocal aesthetic works really well, like on the excellent Italian-western track “The Ballad of Sisyphus T. Jones” and the heavy, brooding penultimate song “You’re Trying to Break Me.”

Hajduch: As a quick clarification, there are both live and programmed drums on “Cosmetics,” at least to my ears.  The programmed drums sound like the ones on every Boss drum machine: slightly reverberated, terribly thin, lacking swing, and like they belong on a demo.  The addition of live drums livens things up considerably.  Note to drum-machine bands: either embrace the plastic nature of your synth drums and stop trying so hard to make them sound like real drums (it is unconvincing!  You can always just use an 808 or whatever!), do what Animosity and Drumcorps did and go with totally brutal breakbeats, or just be so good at drum programming that I don’t notice (hello, Harpoon!).

It’s a welcome surprise that the album closes out with some satisfying synthesizer work; “You’re Trying to Break Me” introduces some insanely loud compressed bass/synth howl, just like My Life with the Thrill Kill Kult used to do before every single industrial band got terrible at the same time.  (It was like 1995 or so — seriously, it was awful).  Album closer “O Putrid Son (For Yuko)” goes straight for the down-tempo/dubstep bass wobble, which seems like an unusual choice, but it works well with the song.  The track itself employs some interesting key modulation, which is emphasized by such a strong bass line.  It’s a singular moment on an album that otherwise seems to run together, and it’s great that Thirlwell closes his most recent album out on a high note.

Morrow: With all this talk about electronics, we should mention that nearly everything else on Hide is organic, often performed by Thirlwell, and any given track may combine styles in a way that few others do.  It sounds like we’re split on this one, but I have to give this a pretty enthusiastic endorsement.  And if you prefer Thirlwell’s instrumentals, be sure to pick up his work for The Venture Bros. TV show and his work as Manorexia and Steroid Maximus.

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