(Artwork care of Karen Ramsay (www.karenramsay.com), profile photo care of brianlackeyphotography.com)

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Coming attractions: Negativland, "Right Might"

Gather 'round, kids, while I tell you about the biggest punks and anarchists that ever released an album. Sure Black Flag was hardcore and the Butthole Surfers were a chaotic, artistic mess, but Negativland managed to fight the system and spit in the face of authority without relying on mere guitar thrash to carry their message. Instead, they pioneered audio editing to create sonic collages with subversive themes. Their first album, Negativland was released in 1980, but I didn't find out about them until their 1987 record, Escape From Noise. I still remember being floored by the audacity of "Christianity is Stupid", which sampled a preacher, turning his message on its head. They later achieved much wider exposure because of the lawsuits over their 1991 EP, U2, which sampled the Irish band and an obscenity-laced Casey Kasem rant. They eventually made their case for fair use.

In the years since, Negativland hasn't been completely idle, but their last release was a good six years ago. That dry spell is ending with a new album, It's All in Your Head, due October 28. Continuing their history of thumbing their noses at the popular and powerful, this album arose from an unusual gift: access to Disney's private audio archives. The source is appropriately cloaked in mystery, but Negativland asked for and received countless hours of material. It should come as little surprise that they're not only poking their fingers in Disney's eye, but they're continuing their challenge of religion's place in society. You can bet that this sound from the happiest place on earth is going to piss off a lot of people.

The first taste they're offering is "Right Might", which splices up the animatronic Abraham Lincoln to offer up a commentary on faith and Christianity's Dominion Theology. Based on an excerpt from the recording sessions for Disney's "Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln" attraction, voice actor Royal Dano offers up a host of takes on his line, "Let us have faith that right makes might." This is quickly transformed into "Let us have faith that right faith makes might right," and other variations, Accompanied by a downshifted version of "The Battle Hymn of the Republic", Dano is repeatedly cued by the producer to adjust his intonation to fine tune the nuance of the performance. The message becomes more strident and confrontational.

Much like the classic punk bands, Negativland is still focused on pushing buttons and generating outrage while making their point. On the plus side, they have honed their skills over the years and they're likely to garner more attention than Jello Biafra's post-Dead Kennedys lectures/rants. I'm going to guess that they've already shared their press material with the right wing Christian press to trigger the first wave of denouncements.

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