The Great Confrontation 2LP
(In The Red Records)
I confess that I had forgotten about The Dils until the opportunity to review the band’s Live! reissue came up. Not that I was unfamiliar with the band before (I remember discovering the band at the same time I came upon The Weirdos, The Bags, The Dickies and Fear in high school), they just sort of escaped my memory until the band’s Live! Album got reissued on Porterhouse Records and I fell back into it. At the same time, The Great Confrontation appeared on my desk and brought with it some startling revelations; the album completely subverts assumptions as far as what anyone might expect from a “SoCal guitarist”(say what you want, Pat Smear’s guitar and songwriting style hasn’t changed since the Eighties and John Doe usually utilizes his guitar as a songwriting tool), and presents Kinman as a completely different, “artist of music” type. The Great Confrontation is a surprisingly melodic (but still very, very unusual) instrumental composition, with the only vocals that appear on the album being what sounds like incidental dialogue which may only have been captured as the tape rolled in the album’s late making. Because of that, it goes without saying that The Great Confrontation is difficult but, from note one, listeners will be able to pick up a glimmer of the possibility that they’re being presented with a puzzle designed to challenge them and, for the right ears and right minds, that challenge could be all the album requires in order to get them through the proverbial front door.
As tantalizing as the above examination of The Great Confrontation may read, there’s no denying that the album presents listeners with a hard place to start. As soon as needle catches groove on the A-side of The Great Confrontation, the album lives up to its name as peals of distortion and feedback set ears to ringing with the minute-forty-in-length opening salvo that is “Let’s Go Dark Shark.” On first listen, the jarring sound is incredibly disorienting; after some very high-pitched squeals and electronic slashes mixed with feedback pierce skulls, far more melodic tones begin to build as the album’s title track begins (there is no hard break between cuts), much to the relief of the uninitiated.
After “Let’s Go Dark Shark” sets the stage, the album’s title track lines up and, as “The Great Confrontation” plays out, the seventeen-minute behemoth earnestly builds a form and structure that listeners will find begins to feel very comfortable, before long. Like many of the better albums which have been released on K Records over the years, the title track assembles warm, almost thoughtful-sounding melodies over what sounds like an 8-bit computer bass part and, before long, listeners will be able to find and start humming along with the song’s melody; there are abstract feeling hooks laced throughout the running of the title track and, in spite of the fact that there is nothing resembling a conventional op song structure about it, listeners will find themselves attached to it as they would to a pop song and be genuinely sorry to see it go when it fades out and the needle finally lifts. It’s because of that startlingly warm sensation that listeners will rush to their turntables to flip the record over and renew the play; they’ll find a sense of surprise and elation when the side ends, and they’ll definitely want to find more.
The B-side of The Great Confrontation begins in a far more streamlined way than did the A-side. While most listeners would expect an explosion because the album’s A-side already introduced listeners to the idea of where the record may be headed, “Golden Robot” opens gingerly – as if someone is tapping on the end of a patch chord with their thumb – before a digitally time delayed guitar enters the song’s foreground and begins to shape the song. Now, that doesn’t mean Chip Kinman begins playing a rhythm figure, or even a coherent lead – here, it simple sounds as though he’s testing where the boundaries are in the mix, and fussing around with what might be possible. It does need to be said that, while initially interesting, the B-side eventually tests listeners’ patience more than anything because the design of cuts like “My Predominantly White Family” and “Golden Robot” doesn’t move in any particular direction (it feels like experimentation for experimentation’s sake) and the mixed field recording of inchoate voices which appears without any obvious purpose feels frustrating because it doesn’t go anywhere and makes no excuses for that fact.
Because the B-side felt so frustrating and pointless, when “Ciao Raggazzi” opens the C-side of the album with just one voice talking instead of a multitude of them and the other sound effects have been panned such that they don’t overrun the mix, the result feels immediately more stable and easier for listeners to move toward. By the same token, the rapid fire synthetic beat and howling tones which manifest in the back of the mix feel instantly dark in a “Depeche Mode in the Nineties” kind of way and, in the end, the results are haunting – a fact furthered by the sudden break at the end of the cut.
After “Ciao Raggazzi” cuts out abruptly, “San Francisco Fog 1977” dives in with laser-fire tones increasing and decreasing in rate with the turn of a dial in front of a wall of sustained but melodic forms. After the angular tones that “… Raggazzi” presented, the lengthier and more sedate notes have an excellent, calming effect that listeners will find they appreciate – but it proves to be short-lived as “Round About Danny” returns to more frenetic, high-pitched sonic slashes (although now over sedate keyboards and real-time drums!) to close out the side. To the cut’s credit, the relaxed backing is a very nice addition to the aural palette on The Great Confrontation, but the high-pitched and screeching sound of the electronic chaos found on the top of the mix is possessed of a remarkable and grating quality that listeners will be happy to hear evaporate when the needle lifts from the side.
Because of the way that the first three sides of The Great Confrontation play through, listeners both will and will not be surprised by what they find on the album’s D-side. There, “I Can Count To 19” opens the running with more of the howling, siren-like tones at the forefront of the song, but they’re tempered by the very consistent keyboard rhythm figure on which the cut is based as well as the gentle high hat tapping which functions as a beat. Eventually, something which sounds like a theremin begins to infiltrate the mix (at around the five minute mark) but, unlike how similar sounds would jump to the foreground previously and overtake the proceeding, that sound seeks to enhance the overall production which works incredibly well. The overall result of “I Can Count To 19” is that it gives listeners the impression that these proceedings are coming to a close, and there is a satisfaction to be found in that – the even more brief, but more (shall we say) energetic “Pop Become Art Become Pop” bumps power levels up a bit more – taking the sound of the cut back to “car alarm” territory, and then “Will The Cycle Be Unbroken” follows up with some urgency and synthetic sizzle to close out the album. There, listeners get a genuine sense of closure as there’s a very evident build in intensity, and then the track crests before fading to a close.
Taking The Great Confrontation into account as a whole and then reading my thoughts on it in the context of a review, I’m honestly not sure how well I’ve summed the music up or how effectively I’ve promoted its’ quality. Without question, there’s absolutely no way to deny that The Great Confrontation succeeds in taking listeners on a journey that they have never taken before; they’ll be confused when they start with it the first time, and feel like they achieved something when they run front-to-back with it. It’ll be interesting to see how this album ultimately exists in relation to Chip Kinman’s future releases; listeners already know where the artist began (with The Dils) and where he is now, but it will be interesting to see how those steps relate with what music comes next from the artist. [Bill Adams]
The Great Confrontation double album is out now on In The Red Records. Buy it here on Amazon.