There are images from Cormac McCarthy’s The Road floating around in my mind this week. Apocalyptic visions of an America smothered in ash, given over to brutality, which all but precludes human emotion beyond the fear of death. Cannibalism is the rule rather than the exception and objects produced by advances in technology have been torn apart and reassembled into primitive instruments of intimidation and destruction. They are terrifying images because they are not inconceivable; to the contrary, their extreme violence is an extension of elements historically human. It is in relation to this imagined future wasteland that I hear Excepter’s latest record.
Debt Dept. is described in its accompanying press release as “an album of protest songs played in an anti-commercial style.” They are not protest songs that function through topical discourse, but rather by their refusal to represent harmony musically. Disharmony is in fact the primary attraction of Excepter. They actively marginalize themselves by creating music that is perceived as difficult, monotonous and comically dark. If that were the end of the story Debt Dept. would be merely one more addition to the novelty bin. Fortunately, this is not the case.
There is a distinct lack of equilibrium in Excepter’s music. The premonition of disaster is omnipresent, whether a violent, physical disturbance or a derangement of the mind. “Any and Every” is an exploration of the latter, a series of narrow perspectives that constantly mutate into others. An exercise in disorientation. The beat rocks steady, but scattershot effluvium is pushed through a spin cycle around it. After opening on the brink of violence with “Entrance,” Debt Dept. closes into uncertainty. “At the end of the night, sunrise.” Whether the day to follow will bring more blood or a move toward something better remains to be seen. Though, the latter seems less likely after passing through the album’s nightmarish body.
The CD version of the album also includes a coda: Excepter’s last single, “Burgers,” which is basically the musical version of a hilarious B horror movie, equal parts malevolence and mischievous glee. But even “Burgers,” like the most absurdly violent tracks on the record—”Shots Ring” and “Kill People”—reveals a sense of urgency that keeps it from being reduced to puerile reveling in extended human pathos. “Kill People” may invite laughter with its frantic exhortations to commit murder, but it is uneasy laughter mitigated by a bleak, oppressive atmosphere. It presents the possibility of a celebratory anthem devoted to slaughter, one that would be delivered in earnest, delivered by a barbarically figured humanity such as that represented by the ragged, blood-thirsty army in McCarthy’s novel.
There is something hypnotic in the portrayal of dystopian worlds. Something that one hesitates to turn away from, something that leads one to construct memories of possible futures, memories that can be consulted in determining modes of action. Debt Dept. is the type of record that balances the euphoria and melancholy characteristic of pop music. It refuses to operate as anesthesia, as narcotic. It generates positive human aspiration negatively. The pursuit of happiness becomes something more than a vague, stultifying cliché only when faced with a world in which its possibility has been voided.