Excepter‘s music has always kind of reminded me of New Weird America’s evil twin, absconding from the wilderness to turn tricks in broad daylight on some street corner near 34th street-Penn Station, clad in a leather jacket and fingerless gloves. Like Sunburned’s, their sound comes across as the diegetic byproduct of some Manson Family-style ritual, frightening for the very reason that we really have no idea where that ritual comes from, or what the band’s members are trying to achieve. Even in the pit of industrial North Brooklyn, surrounded by concrete on all sides, they take rocks and sticks and animal-shaped talismans and try to hack their way slowly back to the earth.
But Excepter’s music isn’t just a return to roots. Their live performances may make us feel like we are being pulled backwards through time, tunneling down feet-first to the original cave, the illumination of the original fire. When we finally get there, though–two hours of improvisation later–the cave is just another lonely night club, and the fire we were hoping to warm ourselves by nothing but a bunch of neon lights, refracted by sequins and a disco-ball. If we factor in the drum machines and synthesizers, Excepter seems less like a satanist flower child and more like that boom-box guy in black sunglasses you brushed past at three in the morning on Bushwick Avenue in Brooklyn. Something about the fact that you couldn’t see his eyes told you to cross the street, but his muffled beats were so tight that you couldn’t help straining your neck to make out the DJ handle scrawled on that piece of masking tape dangling off his left speaker. Or maybe the band’s darkest secret is that it is really some combination of the two.
I had the pleasure of catching the premiere of Excepter’s new Black Beach DVD at Monkeytown in Brooklyn last week. While I have yet to hear the album it accompanies, released Monday on Paw Tracks, I was couldn’t help thinking that it was about time that Excepter made an album about going to the beach. Not because the beach seems to be everybody’s favorite thing to talk about in independent music these days (a subject probably worth a blog post in itself), but because the image of these city slickers walking the virgin shores of Morro Bay Beach in California resonates so stunningly with the tensions at play in their music. Shot on woozy, pastel-colored handheld by videomaker Harrison Owen, the film divides the band’s excursion into into three “movements,” each coinciding with a different open-air performance: discovery, more discovery (see video below), and colonization.
Announcing mankind’s descent upon Morro Bay with the trill of a flute, the group stake their way down to the beach over a succession of hills and rocks, “imprinting” the territory with small tokens of human presence: piles of stones, animal figurines, the sound of a wooden mallet on a boulder, the “Excepter” logo inscribed with a toe in the sand. The illusion of the hunter-gathering, berry-swallowing, fire-worshiping “original” explorer–partial to full-frontal nudity, exposed pregnant bellies, and all–is almost complete. But it unravels before it fully forms. We might believe that this was truly an “arrival,” for instance, if members of Excepter weren’t wearing Ray Bans and straw hats and hoodies, checking their cell phones from time, sneaking cigarettes. We might even settle on a “return” if Excepter didn’t bring their synthesizers and electronic pulses along with them–not only in the psychic space of the soundtrack, but along in their backpacks, as this three-minute shot of a “lost synth” left behind on bed of rocks can attest.
No, Excepter cannot reunite with “what came before” without bringing “what came after” along with them. They can’t help it; they are products of their time, products of their species. The colonize even as they escape what has been colonized. Black Beach makes us realize that at the end of the day, a programmed drum beat isn’t all that different from a hand drum. And neither is a footstep. But maybe we can find something inspiring in the sound that all three of them make together:
Words: Emilie Friedlander