French TV - The Case Against Art

Year of Release: 2002
Label: Pretentious Dinosaur Records
Catalog Number: CD0006
Format: CD
Total Time: 54:44:00

The Case Against Art isn't a legal tristese on Linkletter, Pepper, or even Garfunkle. The "art" being referred to here is that creative endeavor that this album represents, both in the concept of the title and by the mere fact of its existence. It is art as art, for the sake of art... The Case Against Art is the latest release from French TV, a CD that features five tracks that are both robust and low-key, all with titles sure to start more than one conversation - "That Thing On The Wall," "Viable Tissue Matter," "Partly The State," "One Humiliating Incident After Another," and "Under The Big 'W'." French TV's musical version of art is their usual eclectic mix of sounds and styles.

Trying to describe what one hears really requires an audio play-by-play ... which one doesn't really need. Nevertheless, I can't say that this track is any one thing, or that track any one thing. French TV make music as random and convoluted as a person's thoughts, flitting from one idea to another, but neither lingering too long on one thought, nor giving them short shrift. It's like James Joyce... or Tristram Shandy (an obscure reference for you Brit Lit majors) ... Slaughterhouse Five...

'"That Thing On The Wall" begins in a very low key manner with what sounds like a xylophone (to me) but is not credited ... then things kick into a higher gear with guitar (Chris Smith), keys (Warren Dale), drums and percussion (Chris Vincent) . It is whimsical, cool, colourful, serious ... Dale's woodwinds honk and snort (I think a little bit of Herb Alpert and John Coltrane) ... at another point, it's down-home Americana that makes me think of Bear Country at Disneyland (no, not the movie) - that is, plucked banjo and rolling piano-like keys, like something out of the saloons of the 1800s (the band is based in Kentucky).

"Viable Tissue Matter" is a soft, breathy, atmospheric piece, that slowly becomes ever more solid. A gentle flute (Greg Acker) plays, bringing forth images of a life slowly coming into being. You've seen the footage on PBS or in your biology class - cell division, that keeps multiplying, becoming an organism... as the organism matures, we see that is it becoming... well, something not quite human, not quite alien, not quite anything, just a entity... what we hear is a mix of jazz and 50s cinematic music ... more angular horns with Acker on sax ... the swelling strings of Cathy Moeller on violin... this entity becomes a hipster, Las Vegas bound with lots of cash... first guitar, then bass leads over swirly keys and a crisp, quick drum beat -- that is, now we're leavin' Vegas, on the lamb... only to return to our ethereal state... perhaps it was all a dream...

"Partly The State" is a cover of a Happy The Man piece that appears on Beginnings, penned by Cliff Fortney, who sings on it here, as well. It is even more subtle than that which preceeds it; in fact, it is so very subtle you might think the CD has ended, at least when listening via speakers rather than headphones. A throbbing bass (Mike Sary) brings things out of this suspended state, a few ELPisms along the way, relatively brief and impressionistic ... along the way we get chimming percussion, recorder, flute, mandolin...and beautiful, but haunting backing vocals from Karen Hyer. As complex and avant garde the arrangement is, it seems a bit conventional for French TV...which only serves to mix the album up, showing different sides to the band. Well, I say this, but that excludes the funky, 70s proto-disco passages, the rocking fusion passage, and the Yes like passage ... guests also include Shawn Persinger on acoustic guitar and Kirk Davis on percussion.

"One Humiliating Incident After Another." We start in a smoky jazz club in the 1940s, leave there for a stroll through Vegas (again) with the Rat Pack, duck behind the Sands Hotel, only to find ourselves in a small town in the 1800s...come to find it's Texas, just near the border with Mexico... get abducted by aliens... leaving out the the humiliating incidents that have caused our time jump, of course...something to do with the dame at the club, Frankie, the mob... Of course, we could simply roll tape of many a speech by Quayle, Bush, Dole... falls by Ford (Gerald, that is, not Henry)... etc. "Under The Big 'W'"... yes well, if the beginning ceremonial-like drum tattoo that opens the track doesn't sound a bit presidential, then well,... maybe it's just me. The music takes on a circus like theme, including a few gentle oomp-pa-pas -- Pam Thompson on tuba. But, you know, with the title, could you have expected anything else? The piece goes from this circus like atmosphere to sleepy jazz (with some terrifically warm sax from Acker) and points in between... and a point way at the very end, we get a light phrase that sounds a bit like "My Favourite Things" and "Carol Of The Bells."

After all that, as much as I like this release, it didn't grab me as much as The Violence Of Amateurs did. It's good, don't get me wrong; the performances are fabulous, but it is, perhaps, a little too eclectic for it's own good. Given the uncertainty of the band during the recording of this album, though, it is quite cohesive.

That Thing On The Wall (8:53) / Viable Tissue Matter (11:45) / Partly The State (10:30) / One Humiliating Incident After Another (9:18) / Under The Big W (14:18)

Mike Sary - bass
Warren Dale - keys, woodwinds, sax, recorder, clarinet
Chris Vincent - drums
Chris Smith - guitar, violin, banjo, mandolin, and more...
Dean Zigoris - guitar (2, 5)
Greg Acker - sax, flute (2, 5)
Cathy Moeller - violin (2, 5)
Cliff Fortney - vocals, flute, recorder (3)
Shawn Persinger - acoustic guitar (3)
Kirk Davis - percussion (3)
Karen Hyer - soprano (3)
Steven Dale - trumpet and euphonium (4)
Pam Thompson - tuba (5)

French TV (1994)
After A Lengthy Silence (1987)
Virtue In Futility (1994)
Intestinal Fortitude (1995)
Live: YOO-HOO!!! (1997)
The Violence of Amateurs (1999)
The Case Against Art (2002)
Pardon Our French (2004)
This Is What We Do (2006)
I Forgive You For All My Unhappiness (1CD) (2010)
I Forgive You For All My Unhappiness (2CD) (2010)
Ambassadors Of Good Health ANd Clean Living (2016)
Operation: MOCKINGBIRD (2017)

Genre: RIO

Origin US

Added: August 25th 2002
Reviewer: Stephanie Sollow
Artist website:
Hits: 873
Language: english


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