Rave Reviews for Utechma by Amy X Neuburg & Men
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Utechma has gotten glowing reviews:
But Neuburg's art is too diverse to be derivative. She has that rare gift of using sound and lyric to create a real sense of place. A techno-poppish tune, "Get That Camera Out of Here," stops suddenly, leaving a single synth tone hanging in the air; from this foundation Neuburg builds the next cut, "Fish," which seems to begin as the musings of a drowning victim. "That must be a police car 'cuz there's that sound/So I try to pull over but there's no ground," she sings over open space and chords that float like seaweed in the tides. Chaos and noise follow, but at the end we're left with a couple of wispy chords, an in-your-head guitar buzz, a water drip, and an affirmation that "I died laughing."
All this may seem a little pretentious, but Neuburg pulls it off with virtuosic aplomb. The MenÑguitarist and stick player Herb Heinz, percussionist Joel Davel, and keyboardist Tim RootÑace her arrangements with humor and discipline, while Amy darts from synth to drums and lays down vocals which betray a theatrical sensibility. Now and then the band erupts in spasmodic improvisations called "Man Jams," which seem to function as catharses for those who find Neuburg's charts too confining. But the music works best when she holds the reins and challenges the listener to hang on.
-Robert L. Doerschuk
Neuburg's group, the Men, are a microcosm of her artistic bent for combining new technology with old roots. She sings and plays drumKAT, and the MenÑHerb Heinz, Joel Davel, and Micah BallÑplay a variety of electronic instruments, including Chapman Stick, Buchla Lightning, and malletKAT. (Micah Ball has replaced Tim Root, who played on the album.) Vocally, the Men are unleashed for what she calls a "Gilbert and Sullivan or Kurt Weill-type effect." They even have their own quirky and often riotous song snippets, called "Man Jams," that are sprinkled throughout the album. It's certainly not a sterile, more-techno-than-thou approach to electronic music.
"This album has helped define the personality of the band," explains Neuburg. "We use a lot of humor, making fun of things like the concept of the Men. The cool thing musically is we all play electronic instruments, so we can trigger anything. We take advantage of our setup by switching bass lines around and having different band members play the rhythm and the chords. Herb and Micah both play Chapman Stick, which allows them to play either bass sounds or guitar sounds."
The result is a style that manages to be both understated and frenetically off-kilter. On many of the songs, Neuburg's vocals are mixed at the same level as the instruments and backing vocals, ensuring that no one element stands out above the others. "It's a very dense sound," she says. "True, it's artificial and there's a lot of production, but that's my aesthetic."
Although Neuburg intentionally pursued a heavily produced sound, she admits that she took it a little too far on some occasions. For instance, as a beta tester for Digidesign's Session 8 software, she had to learn the program inside and out. She got to know it so well, in fact, that she had a hard time knowing when to stop editing.
"By the time I mastered the software, I could edit my pieces so meticulously that I would just go crazy editing," she says. "If the Men sang a word that ended in a tee and all the tees weren't together, I would move them so they all lined up. I worked forever on things like that."
Neuburg mentions the track "Hunger for Heaven" as another example of her editing zeal. "I spent days editing my vocal part to make it sound like I never breathed while I was singing," recounts Neuburg. "I don't think anyone else has noticed it, but when I listen to it, I feel like I'm going to suffocate."
As is the case with all artists worth their salt, Neuburg is picky about those subtleties that only someone intimate with the compositions would notice. She and the Men do a great job of creating an interesting interplay of music, technology, and humor.
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