The High Confessions
Turning Lead Into Gold With The High Confessions
posted on 7/2010 By:
The ‘Supergroup.’ Even the term itself inspires both excitement on one hand and eye rolling cynicism on the other. Always a dicey proposition, they can come off as more than the sum of their parts (Down), less, like in the corporate mergers of the likes of the Audioslaves and Velvet Revolvers, or even something worse—remember HSAS? That’s Hagar Schon Aaronson Shrieve, by the way. No? Hmm. Then again, there are projects like the long-running industrial collective Pigface—a true mixed bag of resutls. The High Confessions features a Pigface alum in the form of frontman Chris Connelly, whom you’re more likely to know from his guest work with Ministry and his involvement in Revolting Cocks, back before that band became an utter waste of time, and the short-lived but outstanding industrial ‘supergroup’ Murder Inc. with Killing Joke members. Also involved are Steve Shelley, drummer of indie Gods Sonic Youth, Sanford Parker (who must have been bored in all his downtime), and Jeremy Lemos (White/Light). On their debut, Turning Lead into Gold With the High Confessions (which seems to be named after a little known project of Ministry co-conspirator Paul Barker), these four unlikely collaborators offer up an interesting and rather genreless set that spans the breadth of its creators, from industrial to avant-garde indie rock to droning post-rock. There are undeniable highs to be found (confessed?) here. But what’s most frustrating is that the band struggles to find a consistent stride.
Center stage here clearly belongs to Connelly’s voice and Shelley’s drumming, an odd combination of instruments on which to focus. That’s not to underplay the contributions of Parker and Lemos, it’s just that their role is to structure an ambient framework to support the drums and vocals. As is fitting, considering the pedigree of its members, The High Confessions falters most noticeably the closer they come to convention. Opener “Mistaken for Cops” is the most conventional number here, in length and structure, and it's also one of the few songs that employs prominent guitar melodies. It’s also not particularly convincing, despite its stab at a quasi-industrial form that should suit Connelly well. But the guitar becomes repetitive and grating, and ironically, the biggest issue is with Connelly himself, who uses a flat, nearly spoken-word delivery. When the album really clicks, it’s because of the tense emotion and dynamics of Connelly’s vocals combined with the free-form percussion of Shelley, which is all over the map at times. When topped with the layers of hum and drone (mostly) electronic ambience, all the parts fall into place and the band truly shines.
Take “Dead Tenements,” easily the best song of the five. Connelly’s tense delivery has a menacing tone (sounding most like his work in Revco) and the humming drone and drumming style are an atypical-as-hell but phenomenal accompaniment, serving as an example of what can happen when you get the best of all four members. “The Listener” is another strong track. Much more low-key, but still benefitting from the layered vocal lines -- a duet, really -- that convey an emotionality that parts of the album lack. Take “Along Come the Dogs,” an indulgent seventeen-minute track in the middle of the record. If pruned -- er, I mean, hacked in half -- it could be shaped into a good song, but it ends up being monotonous. Overlong and undergood. The first track posted online is the album closer, “Chlorine and Crystal,” and it captures most of the strengths and limitations of the band. Again, Connelly is flat here for the majority of the track, while the drumming is spot-on and the accompaniment usually helps, but occasionally bogs down.
At the end of the day, The High Confessions don’t impress the same way other recent supergroups like Shrinebuilder and Twilight (yet another Parker project) have, but still manage to succeed often enough to be worthwhile if you’re a fan of the involved parties. Even with my complaints, this is still a definite purchase for me, to replace my low-res, beeped digital promo. But if you’re unfamiliar with these musicians, especially Connelly, it’s probably wise to investigate before buying blind, as their odd styles are integral to what the album does well.
Register to post comments.