Idiot Flesh
The Nothing Show


5.0
classic

Review

by Polyethylene USER (23 Reviews)
September 10th, 2016 | 33 replies


Release Date: 1993 | Tracklist

Review Summary: The Death of Rock Music From Within: Now A Broadway Musical.

Since the golden age of rock music, the genre has splintered more times than anyone cares to count. The genus of rock now contains half a hundred species, and each of these a dozen more subspecies. As well as a common ancestor, these myriad incarnations of rock share also a purpose: to evolve a hackneyed form into something new. Psychedelic rock, with its loose compositions and dreamy sounds, sought to turn rock music into an experience akin to altered consciousness. Punk sought to boil down the excessive and commercial aspects of rock into two-minute, three-cord blasts of musical rebellion. A new-wave band like Talking Heads transformed the broad strokes of rock into twitchy squiggles of rhythm, injecting a much-needed shot of agitation into rock's leaden limbs.

Many moons after rock's heyday, in the town of Oakland, a young band named Acid Rain was born. The core group consisted of guitarist Nils “Pin” Frykdahl, bassist Dan “the Improver” Rathbun, and guitarist and violinist Eugene “Captain Dragon” Jun. In 1987, they released a demo cassette called We Were All Very Worried. Though not without its own adolescent charm, the half-melted punk sounds of this cassette did not truly showcase the compositional talents of the band, nor their shared love for musicians as diverse as Igor Stravinsky and Swans.

It was not until rebranding themselves Idiot Flesh, and releasing their 1990 debut Tales of Instant Knowledge and Sure Death, that the band truly began to realise their potential. Tales was a rogue's gallery of avant-garde rock songs, dripping with the comic experimentalism of artists like Primus and Frank Zappa. If Mr. Bungle's debut album were not still a year away, I would say Idiot Flesh were hugely inspired by them. Highlights of Tales include the genre-hopping funk madness of “Something”, the ode to masturbation “Artstroking”, and above all else, the seven-minute neoclassical beauty of “Meditation.” The latter features rich strings, flutes and electric guitar weaving around one another into a song stunning in both composition and melody. With a voice at once cartoony and sympathetic, Eugene Jun delivers stunning lines of verse that bring a smirk and tug at the heartstrings in equal measure.

Though not a commercial success by any means, Idiot Flesh now had a solid debut album under their belts. But where were they to go next, on their exciting musical journey? What was their purpose? To take the stale rock genre and warp it, bend it and stretch it into strange new shapes? From their debut alone, it seems as though this was Idiot Flesh's intention. It was not until their sophomore effort, 1993's The Nothing Show, that their true motive became clear. Idiot Flesh did not want to evolve rock music into beautiful new forms. They wanted to drive it to extinction.

As stated in the album booklet of The Nothing Show, Idiot Flesh believed rock music to be a force of cultural evil. To them, rock music had slowly been spreading across the face of the musical world, discouraging creative innovation in favour of following formula. It was, in their eyes, antithetical to expressive creativity, a cancer within the world of art. So they embarked on a crusade not to continue rock's legacy, but to destroy it from within. They proclaimed themselves a “Rock Against Rock” band, who would do their darnedest to parody and attack rock conventions with humour, noise and vitriol. We, the audience, were invited to come along and bear witness.

Going hand-in-hand with Idiot Flesh's new musical intent was a fascination with the philosophies of “black mathematician” John Kane, the man who claimed to prove in his letters that one plus one in fact equals zero. This peculiar brand of nihilism hangs heavy throughout The Nothing Show, even in its title. The album is theatrical in nature, a disturbing pantomime in which rock music is destroyed utterly, with the sucking emptiness of the void serving as a backdrop. This is made abundantly clear in the second track, "Almost Nothing." Nils Frykdahl derides the audience for coming to their iconoclastic show expecting sex appeal or spectacle, when their intent is to deliver anything but. Similar nihilistic sentiments are made throughout, amidst violent compositions and squealing guitars. The effect is profoundly disturbing.

Seven hundred words into this review, you're probably asking just why I am recommending an album so anarchic and deranged. It just so happens that The Nothing Show is among the most rewarding listening experiences I've ever come across. Few albums have proved so unique, so headstrong, so rich with ideas musical and philosophical.

I don't expect you to love this thing from the get go. Hell, the first handful of tracks seem determined to warn listeners not to proceed. The opener is a nursery rhyme gone horribly, horribly wrong. “Almost Nothing” sounds like asylum patients trying to emulate Remain in Light. The screeching, dissonant guitars of “Invisible” are enough to peel the skin from your bones. I beg of you, have patience.

The first moment of true catharsis to be had is in the latter half of “Invisible”, when Nils and Eugene join forces for a wonderful vocal medley. Within such a dense thicket of dissonance, their parody of pop and country melodies is like a gift from the gods. Later, “Midnight At The Zipper Factory” and “Not My Song” are delicious blasts of no-wave. The former song rejects all use of the English language, while the latter rejects any and all concept of the self. “Mouth” is the album's first moment of real calm, albeit a very carnivalesque one. Its vaudevillian production and instrumentation is complimented by Nils Frykdahl's deep, heartfelt voice. The lyrical imagery he deals in is broad, jumping from the little boy that lives in the mouth of Danny Torrance, to the arbitrary nature of language, to belief in God. All the while, the instruments bend and wheeze in an oddly nauseating fashion. A few minutes of silence mark an intermission, during which you can run for the hills... or get comfortable for the The Nothing Show's second act. I strongly encourage you to do the latter.

As a matter of fact, all of The Nothing Show's best moments are on its second half. “Meat” is an absolute stunner, its initial crashing cymbals and wordless vocals evoking Swans' White Light From the Mouth of Infinity. Then, the song finds an unlikely groove in bass guitar married with violin. The lyrics deal with the neurosis surrounding sex, meeting people, and all other forms of human contact. Though captivating throughout, “Meat” saves the best for last. The final two minutes see Idiot Flesh partake in the histrionics of a band like Queen or Muse. Each operatic line reaches higher than the last, only to climax in a bat**** finale replete with a choir, fireworks and laser beams. It is a moment of musical hysteria unlike any I've heard before. You can only imagine what the band would look like performing it, eyes wide and hands reaching up portentously towards the sky.

Like all Idiot Flesh albums, The Nothing Show features shorter songs scattered throughout. However, to dismiss these micro-songs as mere interludes would be absurd, when they have so much to offer. “Puppet Theatre” and “The Man Who Liked Zombies” are worlds unto themselves, and showcase the album's fantastic production. “The Man Who Liked Zombies” is one of the most atmospheric songs I've ever heard, with its pounding rhythm section evoking the relentless panic of a nightmare, as well as Eugene Jun's cry of “faaaaalliiiiiing” actually sounding like he is plummeting down an elevator shaft. The listener tumbles down after him, the world become a dizzying blur, only for us to wake up from the nightmare at the last second. For a song less than a hundred seconds long, it packs an almighty punch.

The two final songs are perhaps the finest of the bunch. “Black Sand” is equal parts gorgeous and terrifying, and offers a glimpse as to where Idiot Flesh would venture to on their magnum opus, 1997's Fancy. “Blue Head” is positively anthemic, offering a swashbuckling orchestral majesty that makes me think of Pirates of the Caribbean more than anything else. So The Nothing Show concludes, an enormous blue head wrought of papier-mâché suspended above the stage, with the band urging us to submit to their alien deity.

Upon finishing The Nothing Show, you'll feel like you've just stepped off of a rollercoaster. You'll feel a little sick, but also stunned by the songs and sounds that have just passed you by. Upon future listens, smaller details will become apparent, and the experience will grow more rich and cohesive.

But enough of me babbling. The Nothing Show is an incredible album, somehow more creative, deranged and carnivalesque than Mr. Bungle's debut. Who'd have thought a band of nihilists publicly castrating rock music would be such a joy?



Recent reviews by this author
PIG The GospelChelsea Wolfe Abyss
Mac DeMarco Another OneSon Lux Bones
Faith No More Sol InvictusLightning Bolt Fantasy Empire
user ratings (21)
4
excellent


Comments:Add a Comment 
Polyethylene
September 10th 2016


4677 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

Okay, apologies this turned out so damn long. I had a lot to say

porcupinetheater
September 10th 2016


11025 Comments


Damn, this is huge in scope. Great review.
Only heard Fancy by these guys but it was wonderful

Polyethylene
September 10th 2016


4677 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

Thank you kindly! My first review in ages. If you loved Fancy you'll love this too



same goes for fans of Bungle, Zappa or Sleepytime Gorilla Museum (the band formed from the ashes of Idiot Flesh)

LotusFlower
September 10th 2016


12000 Comments


amazing how this band realized rock was lame before most of the world population. ill take two tickets to the show please. This sounds like an extremely fun listen so I will deff check it out.

ArsMoriendi
September 10th 2016


40928 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

"amazing how this band realized rock was lame before most of the world population"



Nice generalization about rock music



But yeah I'm sold on checking this... well soon enough

CalculatingInfinity
September 10th 2016


9848 Comments


Love SGM, should give these a go sometime.

LotusFlower
September 10th 2016


12000 Comments


'Nice generalization about rock music'

its the truth and you know it.

porcupinetheater
September 10th 2016


11025 Comments


Holy shit, didn't know Sleepytime Gorilla Museum grew out of Idiot Flesh

Polyethylene
September 10th 2016


4677 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

Heheh, yeah. I think it is somewhat audible, Nils' voice, Dan's phat bass... Fancy and the first SGM album aren't miiiles apart stylistically

Polyethylene
September 11th 2016


4677 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

The drums on this thing, gat damn

ArsMoriendi
September 11th 2016


40928 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

I was enjoying this and then Mouth came on and decided to mostly be silence... wtf

Polyethylene
September 11th 2016


4677 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

the mostly-silence is the intermission between parts I and II, like some old vaudeville show

ArsMoriendi
September 11th 2016


40928 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

So I'm reaching the end of this album and honestly it could have been a little less metal honestly, not sure what to rate it yet though.

Polyethylene
September 11th 2016


4677 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

See I love how heavy it gets, but each to their own



Perhaps you'd like Tales more (their first album)

ArsMoriendi
September 11th 2016


40928 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

Maybe, also COME ON MORE SILENCE ON BLUE HEAD? :/

Polyethylene
September 11th 2016


4677 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

Haha damn, that really annoys you! On Blue Head it is because of the hidden track at the end, like half of the albums ever made ever

ArsMoriendi
September 11th 2016


40928 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

Why is there 2 and half minutes of silence after the hidden track though?

ArsMoriendi
September 11th 2016


40928 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

Why is there 2 and half minutes of silence after the hidden track though?



Oh wait he says "Oh shit sorry, I'll go get the chair" for a few seconds...

Polyethylene
September 11th 2016


4677 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

because the void

ArsMoriendi
September 11th 2016


40928 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

I'll going with a 3 for now, but I'll give it a few more listens



The t/t and Puppet Theater were my faves...



You have to be logged in to post a comment. Login | Create a Profile





STAFF & CONTRIBUTORS // CONTACT US

Bands: A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z


Site Copyright 2005-2023 Sputnikmusic.com
All Album Reviews Displayed With Permission of Authors | Terms of Use | Privacy Policy