Out of Breach (Manchester's Revenge)

(Output; 2005)

By Amir Nezar | 31 December 2007

Mu are certainly good at making confrontational music. What’s not so certain is whether the husband-and-wife duo can make their confrontational music really good. The same conundrum has plagued the likes of Sonic Youth, Lou Reed, Brian Eno and Radiohead at various stages of those artists’ careers. All of them possessed a great deal of innovative skill and ambition, but sometimes not even the best bands can convince you that the slap in your face is actually a love-stroke.

Out of Breach (Manchester’s Revenge) is one such case. Mastumi Kanamori and Maurice Fulton, interesting music freaks and odd-humored compositional strangelings, made a compelling, if not bullet-proof case for wedding glitch to broken English to dance beats on Afro Finger and Gel. But where that album’s sick beats and twisted funk vibe made it as fun as it was ridiculous, Out of Breach comes off like a bludgeoning schtick. Kanamori’s delivery of her rabid invective sounds calculated for mass “ha ha, she’s Japanese, we can’t understand her!” laughs, and what little she has to say is vulgar and often silly.

From screeching, “Little bitch!” to defending Michael Jackson, Kanamori is constantly trying to topple prissy culture, but she’s not offering anything to replace it with, beyond not-that-funny anarchy. Similarly, Fulton’s programming is about as antagonistic to dance and pop conventions as it can get - but beyond his amazing percussive palate, the purpose of the antagonism is mostly unclear. To put it differently, both Mu’s vocal and sonic aggressions are the equivalent of arson. It’s initially arresting, sure, even impressive --- but what’s there of substance left to enjoy?

“Haters” must have been placed as the album’s intro as a guard dog ready to tear the knees off anyone who is looking for simple, pleasurable electronica. It’s a vicious, cacophonous circus of b-movie string squeaks, utterly aggravating vocal spits from Kanamori, and deep bass squelches, all of which can’t even be made tolerable by its excellent beat. If the ensuing title track tones down the malice, it doesn’t offer much in the way of better-focused programming. Fulton’s layering of beats over a house foundation is the sole act of compositional integrity that goes on here; everything else is aimless atmospheric ambience and bleeps. Eight minutes in, there’s not much to feel good about.

Thankfully, “Stop Bother Michael Jackson” picks up some arrangement slack, and finally embraces some sort of coherent dynamic, playing with its electro-funk bass refrain and atmospheric space until it arrives at --- no I’m not shitting you --- a harmonic chord progression. The song’s lyrics are still awful, advising Jackson’s persecutor’s to suck a dick, which is, you know, not nice. Still, they do go away relatively early in the song, leaving the listener to focus on Fulton’s far more directed programming. “Tiger Bastard” trips with the torch, but its phenomenal rhythmic builds make up for the flimsiness of its other elements. “We Love Guys Named Luke,” is nothing if not a fascinating experiment, especially its ebb and flows into single-pulse synth lines, and unlike some of the tracks on this album, its forward momentum is directed to any final destination. Kanamori’s superfluous vocal nonsense is just plain fucking irritating, but the song’s eventual culmination of rhythmic annihilation and madman-glitch fire is exhilarating. “Extreme” closes the album off on a rollicking note with a funkarifically good bass line, and maintains interesting percussive ideas throughout.

Yet it’s hard to get over the silliness of tracks like “Little Bitch,” a string of f-bombs and as many English curse-words as Kanamori can summon, all over a lackluster arrangement. Not much better is “I’m Coming to Get You,” which is, at best, a creepy exercise in threatening repetition. And Kanamori’s presence throughout - spitting nasty, meaningless nuggets and striving for stupidity - nearly ruins some of Fulton’s better ideas.

For all its points of interest, Out of Breach seems to consciously discourage repeated listens via offensively puerile subject matter (including vomit), and its unnecessarily confrontational gestures. Fulton’s beat-making is stellar, but devoting attention to it also necessitates suffering the consistently insufferable Kanamori, and stylistic schizophrenia that’s as jarring as it is unique. Plus, as accomplished a rhythm-builder as Fulton is, his lack of any substantial flesh (melodic or instrumental) on the hysterical bones of his percussion is disappointing. All of which makes Mu a more thoughtful package of confrontations than most, but not one you’ll be willing to stand for too long.