It’s been a long time since I’ve listened to an album and been utterly perplexed by its contents, but bravo Newspeak, you managed to give me an album that provoked such a reaction. My initial reaction was simply “what on earth?” and after a couple of listens… it’s still much the same. I came across the album when I saw it listed as an “Indie Classical” album on eMusic (a neat alternative to iTunes offering more out of left field offerings such as this one) and was rather curious to figure out what an “Indie Classical” album would sound like. Turns out it sounds nothing like what I expected, or probably what anyone expected.
Sweet Light Crude is a jumble of styles, lacking a coherent harmonic unity but aesthetically focusing, both directly and ironically, on the mechanical and unnatural properties of technology and industry. It’s a topic well overused since Rilke, but Newspeak go about it in an unusual and refreshing way, with musical styles reflecting the harsh, regimented nature of industry in the opening track, which has gone on to be re-recorded several times, apparently. It sounds like Naked City doing chamber music… quite the bizarre. Following that are a series of more contemplative vocal pieces, from the minimalist I Would Prefer Not To, which has the title phrase repeatedly sung over an angular, electronically influenced musical setting, and the title track, an ode to oil, which offers the strange development from avant-garde chamber music to full-fledged rock ballad in the one song. Believe it when you hear it. The epic treatment of the subject matter of oil again reinforces the universal desire for this natural source for man’s technological gain, the bombastic, almost ludicrous greed that people will utilize to obtain this precious material. It’s a bit over the top, but point proven? I think so. After some more bizarre genre clashing and rock operatics, the albums ends on a Godspeed You! Black Emperor type piece; Requiem for a General Motors in Janesville, WI is its name and its melancholy atmosphere seeks further to remind us of the damages greed and technology can ravage, sucking people into the system and discarding them when it no longer needs them, drained of their workforce and dumped back from whence they came, with their identities stripped and futures uncertain. The music here serves as a testament to the people made redundant from General Motors over in Janesville, and although exactly not on the scale of the Great Depression, their plight is a worthwhile one to be aware of and this music brings out our compassion for them and contempt for the higher powers who dropped the guillotine on their innocent, hard-working necks.
Sweet Light Crude isn’t a revelatory album, nor is it stunningly brilliant, but it’s an obscure curiosity that has more to say than your usual album. It’s difficult music, and sometimes ridiculous, but it has a certain point to make, and you can’t fault Newspeak for making this point in a highly esoteric and innovative manner. Rest assured, you won’t hear anything else like it for quite some time.
Words – Adam.