Exquisite Corps, Der Spazm
Thursday, June 3, 2010 – Old Ironsides – Sacramento
Words by Joseph Atkins – Photos by Amy Scott
In Der Spazm, Ashley provides bass and vocals, and Leticia provides the majority of the lead fretwork and floating octave accompaniment. Their songs are a patchwork of arpeggiated licks that float across the rhythm guitar and lyric lines of a young and lightly bearded frontman, Dillon. Bouncy and jittery, their tunes enable easy allusion to multiple post-punk groups. But rather than leave Der Spazm floundering at the feet of their mentors, we want to place them in our own time. The lyrics of one chorus in particular say, “Love is born in the heart of a/Revolution,” calling attention to our constant, varied antagonisms. The shout-climax of the word “revolution” is emphasized by both Dillon and Ashley (who wrote the lyrics).
The song was composed in response to the events preceding Prop 8, which officially legalized inequality, and we should note what has occurred since 2008. On a cultural basis we’re witnessing the erosion of personal liberties. A partial list goes something like this: Prop 8, California student protests and arrests, Arizona Immigration Act, BP oil spill censorship, culminating with the Israeli raid of a flotilla protest last week when a teenage U.S. citizen was shot through the head. Individually these events corrupt the universal ideas of say, “Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” and Der Spazm places love as an opposing force. Love is the thing growing, inside of the heart outwards, into the greater body at large, circulating through the body politic (“man,” that political animal), which realizes itself as revolution. Revolution isn’t necessarily the purpose; it’s a unified response to a militarized state opposition. While we’re not here to put politics into the jittery joyous melodies of Der Spazm, we are here to place Der Spazm’s spastic tensions within the politics of the world at large–the place where we all indefinitely exist. A place and time where Der Spazm is both pleasure and opposition in a direct, interconnected act.
To contrast the sounds of Der Spazm, Exquisite Corps placated the audience with the lulling movement of bows over a violin and cello combination. Krystyna Ogella primarily lays out the bass lines on cello, while Holly Harrison supplements vocal harmonies and provides lead melodies throughout the songs. Patrick Boylan keeps time on drums, rumbling the songs forward with a series of bass drum-floor tom rhythms, while Bryan Valenzuela provides the vocals and acoustic chord structures filling out the canvas of sound. The vocal melodies come out from the deep cavern of Valenzuela’s mouth, an arid timbre ricocheting out of his subtly parted lips, before rising into the higher registers. The songs are dominated by a sort of narrative lyric flow, a series of events set in chronological order accumulating tension until the choral release. Valenzuela’s shaggy curly hair throws shadows over his closed eyes as he grimaces and sneers his soft discomfort into the mic. The group achieves something slightly lighter than Murder By Death, though they share that sort of folk macabre on occasion. As a name for a young band playing its third show and already headlining, they make an interesting statement.
The surrealists developed the exquisite corpse exercise where each member draws something then covers it up so another can add to it without any conscious connection. Musically the group doesn’t recreate that spontaneity, instead the pun on the corpse as body into the sort of militarized corps, or group, as Valenzuela says, “Like the Marine Corps.” Forcing us backward through the garbage pile of history, the inter-war period of Europe, and landing in our time harmoniously disjunctive at that great venue Old Ironsides, established just after the surrealists themselves, 1934.