I’m a little confused; according to the press release accompanying Excepter’s Alternation, this is their “debut” album. I thought that was KA. And I realize Throne and Sunbomber were only supposed to be EPs, but for being extended singles, they were exceptionally long, even to the point of lasting as long as a full-length album. So before even hearing this record, I’m scratching my head. This is the awesome and confounding power of Excepter. Just as their name might suggest, they are an exception to every rule in pop music, album length, sequence and concept not the least of these broken rules. They’re the only band I know that can take four-four dance beats, analog electronics and vocals and turn them into something sounding completely foreign to popular music.
Anybody can listen to Excepter and discern patterns, shapes and sequences. You can even, for the most part, make out the instruments and melodies. But the way they’re put together is so muddled and patchy, it creates confusion and chaos. It’s utterly baffling music, which has led some to call them “a band for the ages” and some to say they’re “full of shit.” In an age of Black Dice and Wolf Eyes, Excepter far from comes off as the weirdest thing out there, but they sure ain’t normal.
As on prior releases, Alternation, this so-called debut album, bears the trademark sound of Excepter, namely weird, conflicting electronic buzzes and beeps and beats, and oddly recorded vocals that sound almost as if they were captured on a Mr. Microphone rather than a Shure. The concept here is that the songs “alternate” between studio recordings and live stereo recordings, with very little differences to speak of between the two. Opener “Ice Cream Van” with its swirling electronics, banging cowbell and crashing house beats, is among the band’s most accessible noises to date, and actually sounds reasonably crisp, recording-wise. But track two, “Lypse (NM61x)”, while a more lo-fi and subdued ghost dub, doesn’t necessarily make for a striking shift from the first track. If anything, John Fell Ryan’s vocals merely sound more prominent than usual, and more human for that matter.
If there is one thing that can be said about the studio recordings on the album, it’s that they’re merely constructed better as individual pieces of music. “The Rock Stepper” provides a danceable quirkiness with great synth hooks, while “Whirlwind” combines psychedelia with old school electro beats and sounds. Consistent, yet consistently unpredictable, it’s difficult to get a grasp on what direction Excepter seems to be taking at any given time. With Alternation, they find a way to sharpen their focus and deliver some of their most interesting material to date, yet remain no less confusing. Excepter may actually be “full of shit,” but I’ll happily allow myself to be fooled if their music remains this intriguing.
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.