I was first introduced to the Illegal Wiretaps when they graced the electronic pages of my What's in a Name? feature. I didn't know how really to describe them then, and I still don't really know now.
Electronica is a safe term, as is experimental. Nonetheless, these are by definition vague genres that don't really set any limits other than that the band involves beeps and boops, and is not otherwise concerned with sticking to a conventional song. For what it's worth, both those do apply to their new album, Jesus, What Have You Done?, but it is really delving deep into the comically oversized bathtub where a plugged-in toaster perches precariously nearby.
Often their tunes come across more as an endurance test than as progressions of melody. They use a continuous repetition of stanzas as a kind of cyberpunk mantra to drive in a certain buzzing discontent.
Lyrics and vocals are almost completely missing on the album, and are really only prevalent on a couple of strange, stark acoustic guitar tracks. Mostly, it's the incomprehensible murmur of the machine that drives the songs.
What most called to me was the fact that they have somehow mastered the ephemera of a thousand half-remembered Numbers dance anthems. Every time I've listened to "With Respect to Your Demise, I Concede all Empathy" -- yes, all the tracks have such names -- I'm convinced I've heard it before watching goth girls twirl through a Cape Cod haze.
In general, the album becomes much less danceable as it progresses, moving ever more into the "Glasshouse/The Man with the Cut-Glass Heart" area minus the incomparable poetry of Edward Ka-Spel.
In places, especially in "In My Heart, a Caution," you start to realize that if Al Jourgensen had gotten really into New Age music, this is the kind of thing he might put out. Then again, these are all flails in the ether.
In the end, the Illegal Wiretaps remain indefinable. Whether that is for better or worse is hard to say.
Certainly there are moments when it feels more like fucking around than honest experimentation. The last third of the album in particular seems to suffer from a lack of coherence, though songs like "The Weight of Damp Air" and "Sounds of Lust from Teen-age Springs" show their quality even if they don't exactly skip hand in hand.
"Damp Air" alone is proof that the Illegal Wiretaps are the masters of modern minimalism and the darkness between notes.
By the way, this album is free, so there's no reason to take my word for it. You can download it here.
I got Wiretaps guitarist Stephen Wyatt to open up a bit about the record. Click on over to page 2 for the interview.
Rocks Off: There's a distinct shift between more esoteric tracks like "With Respect to Your Demise" and what could be called weird folk tunes like "Next Time." Are those shifts intentional, or is that just the best place to put a moment of bizarre strumming and wailing?
Stephen Wyatt: The shift between "With Respect..." and "Next Time" was meant to be abrupt and disorienting."Next Time" was recorded with the intention of replicating the old cassette players/recorders with a slight warble. Moreover, it was also a failed attempt to replicate Daniel Johnston's guitar-playing charm.
RO: Is the silence in the beginning of "The Ending Doesn't Feel Like an Ending at All" supposed to lull the listener into a false sense of completion? What's the story behind it?
SW: The silence in "The Ending" could test the patience of a corpse. I mastered the track with the intention of gradually increasing the volume to an irritating swell, yet the swell was supposed to cease and did not.
RO: Of all the tracks on the disc, "Sounds of Lust" may be the weirdest. What is the conversation going on in the background?
SW: "Sounds of Lust" is a recording of one of my classes that I teach. We were discussing the exchange between the pig's head on a stick (Lord of the Flies) and Simon, how it represents Satan's temptation of Jesus.
RO: "The Weight of Damp Air" actually seems comparatively bright and hopeful. Would you consider it one of your happy tunes?
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SW: The song was originally called "Fuck You, Free Press Houston, We Don't Sound Like Bauhaus!" I don't think I made my argument.
RO: ... Nope. Not at all.