It’s not easy to turn improvisation into something that sounds fully realized. It takes the steady hands of seasoned musicians with the comfort and chemistry that allows for something unspoken and instinctive to take over. You can learn it, but it can’t necessarily be taught—those skills aren’t written down on chalkboards and textbooks, they’re in the blood, in muscle memory, in a well-trained ear and the ability to follow where a groove takes you. From an outsider’s perspective, that might not be so immediately apparent on a track like Exploded View‘s “No More Parties in the Attic,” an immediate and aggressively pulsing kraut-punk thumper that’s raw, but at least offering the illusion of careful planning. Those sounds can be deceiving: The entirety of the group’s self-titled Sacred Bones-released debut album was recorded from improvisational jam sessions, first-takes only.
Exploded View is a new band—their inaugural live dates having taken place just this past spring—whose personnel happens to comprise a team of ringers. The band is fronted by British-born, Berlin-based singer Anika, whose career includes collaborations with Portishead’s Geoff Barrow and a background in political journalism. The other three-quarters of the band is based in Mexico City, including Crocodiles producer Martin Thulin, Hugo Quezada of Roboto and Hector Melgarejo of Jessy Bulbo. In name recognition, the members of Exploded View fall short of supergroup designation, but their collective talent and experience tell a different story. These are musicians who share a common musical language of ’60s psych, krautrock, post-punk, industrial and electronic, fusing them all together in a rapturous orgy of inspiration.
Few moments on Exploded View’s debut actually sound improvised. The wobbly no wave of “Beige” is a particular exception, essentially a minute of a one-ish note buzz that fades out almost as soon as it appears, and the atonal drone of closing track “Killjoy” that immediately follows carries a similar looseness. That looseness is an essential part of Exploded View’s sonic DNA; with the kickoff of opening track “Lost Illusions,” there’s a menacingly dark aspect to the sound that feels on the verge of escalating at any moment—it’s like being in a dreamscape designed by David Lynch but not being able to wake up. But then again, with an aesthetic that sounds this cool, why would you want to?
When the tempo picks up, however, Exploded View transform that loose noir-punk aesthetic into a driving psychedelic electro-industrial buzz. “No More Parties in the Attic” is the most dramatic example of this, with a marching beat set against screeching siren-like synths and oscillating distortion, like Silver Apples as remixed by Cabaret Voltaire, Anika’s lyrics telling a fable of lost “glory days” and growing gentrification. Less abrasive but equally accessible and impressive is “Orlando,” which pairs a danceable beat with twinkling dream-pop effects, giving birth to an immaculate surrealist disco. It’s the one moment where Exploded View’s prettiest instincts rub up against their propensity for loin-friendly BPMs. Yet “Disco Glove” pushes the envelope on both tempo and dissonance, proving themselves geniuses of dancefloor no wave freakouts.
If there’s an overwhelming conclusion to be taken away from a first listen to Exploded View, it’s that the individual members of the band have impeccable taste. A droning standout such as “Call On the Gods” calls back to vintage Sonic Youth, ’70s krautrock, The Velvet Underground & Nico and any number of other of artists on the great cred master list. But what’s far more interesting is how they fuse these influences into an unexpectedly cohesive whole, made all the more miraculous by the spontaneity of it all. These 11 tracks are lightning in a bottle, brilliant bursts of creativity captured at a perfect moment in time.
Label: Sacred Bones
Buy this album at Turntable Lab
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.