Radio Eris - "The Cruel Tutelage of Master Hotei or Who is Toulouse Turac?" (self-released 2008)

From Aural Innovations #40 (September 2008)

Radio Eris bill themselves as "a psychedelic poetry art rock band from Philadelphia". Their latest album, their 7th, was actually recorded back in 2004-2005, but sees the light of day in 2008 thanks to a band self-release. But these recordings represent the coalescing of the band into the line-up that has remained fairly constant to this day.

The band refers to the album as a "double sided" CD, though in reality, it's just divided into two parts, as if they were collections of songs that formed the two sides of a vinyl release, hence the CD's two titles. Drawing on diverse influences from 70's punk poet Patti Smith to 80's noise merchants Sonic Youth to the minimalist art/experimentalism of Brian Eno, Radio Eris mix things up with an anarchic, improvised approach to their sound. From the very first listen, I got a very strong 80's vibe from their sound. And no, I'm not talking a slick, synth-pop, fashion obsessed kind of 80's thing. Their sound isn't even really a retro one, per se, but the 80's was when this kind of post-punk, noise/alt-art culture was born, and you can hear that early spirit in what Radio Eris is trying to do.

Combining chunky, clunky rhythms with noisy and sometimes-discordant guitar and buzzing wailing synths and electronic sounds, the band provides a backdrop for the rambling vocalizations of lead "singer" Lora (I put the word singer in quotes because she tends much more towards moans, spoken word musings and rants than singing-though she does do a bit of the latter too). "Side 1" or The Cruel Tutelage of Master Hotei is the more diverse and anarchic (and sometimes more experimental) half of the album. It starts with the atmospheric 13-minute epic Puppet World, which combines avant-bluesy guitar and air raid siren-like electronic wails over a minimalist, motorik-style rhythm to buoy singer Lora's moans, shrieks and rambling fantasies of world domination. The rest of the "side" consists of shorter sonic experiments, including the two-part, somewhat scatological Evil House. I found the toilet references a little overdone and not to my taste here, but they were short pieces (under a minute each), so not a big deal. Better though was The Night the Pipes Froze, though fairly short (at just under 3-minutes), the spacey jam echoed what was to come on "side 2".

Starting with weird, shrieking sounds, the band launches into the mostly instrumental side 2 with the chaotic space jam of Bug Bug, and the slower, spacier Shining Still. After the questionable taste of Evil House, however, I was somewhat worried, by the song title Golden Showers. My worries were not unfounded. It's an entire song about pissing. This kind of toilet humour doesn't really appeal to me, and unfortunately overshadows what could have been musically something really interesting. The band redeem themselves however with the excellent A Dream to Crawl, a 7-minute odyssey of strange synths and complex, interwoven guitar, bass and drum explorations. The album closes with its heaviest track, Lisa Lisa (perhaps a reference to new (at the time) drummer Lisa Spera?). It certainly features her raging and crashing away on the skins while the other players freak out on their respective instruments, and reinforces the spirit of musical anarchy and creativity that permeates the album.

All in all, Radio Eris's The Cruel Tutelage of Master Hotei or Who Is Tolouse Turac? is a decent effort with some frenzied psychedelic jams balanced out by quirky sonic experimentation, though it is somewhat marred, in my opinion, by some unnecessary toilet humour on a few of the tracks.

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Reviewed by Jeff Fitzgerald

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