Perfect Vacuum
A Guide To The Music Of The 21st Century

(Acidsoxx Musicks)

Finding strange-looking CDs sporting quirky, unusual, even bizarre images and pictures, most of the time released by artists who are completely unknown to me, filling my mailbox is something that happens with a certain degree of regularity; nonetheless, I had to admit that the cover of this CD by Perfect Vacuum is something else: on the front cover we can see two guys wearing 18th Century wigs and clothes, which I assume to be a reference to the cover of the world-famous album by Wendy Carlos, Switched-On Bach; while the picture in the back recreates the one on the back cover of the Gong LP Camembert Electrique. So I had to ask myself who those guys were - and what kind of music could possibly be featured in an album titled A Guide To The Music Of The 21st Century?

Having a look at the album credits showed somebody I know: guitarist and multi-instrumentalist Lukas Simonis, whom I had last listened to more than a year ago on an album titled NEWS, co-released with Takayuki Kawabata; another look at the credits showed Nina Hitz on cello, whose work on the aforementioned album I had enjoyed quite a bit. Perfect Vacuum is an album that Simonis co-leads with singer Dave Marsh, who's also the co-writer of all lyrics and music. About the lyrics, I don't really know: they are not featured on the album cover, and listening didn't help me much. But what about the music?

Those who like making things appear difficult would probably define A Guide To The Music Of The 21st Century as "a meta-exercise on the very concept of 'genre' according to a post-modern approach". Me, I'd file it under "intelligent fun": in some ways it reminded me of Frank Zappa's first few albums (for instance, Freak Out!, even if the spirit here appears to be quite different), while other traits reminded me of early-period 10cc (Sheet Music, say; but again, intentions appear to be different). As it's always the case with such operations, meaning and "quotes" will fatally differ, depending on listeners' knowledge.

The album has a nice "rétro" sound, panned "hard right/hard left", with a few noises and sounds channel-tripping. The instrumentation is of the colourful 60s type: acoustic guitars, banjo, tuba, vocals, synths, piano, viola, cello, all make for a lot of timbral variety.

Gutter In The Sun is a ballad featuring banjo, tuba, and funny vocal intermezzo (Ike Turner?). Satanic Man/Average Man has slide and strings, almost a mix of Lovin' Spoonful and Kinks, with a Beach Boys vocal fragment. Glamour Addict has a drumset quite ŕ la Drumbo and a very Beefheartian-sounding set of vocals. Strings, bass, and drums are featured on The Good Neighbour, which for mysterious reasons reminded me of The Beatles' Fixing A Hole. Kosmisch Mechanischer Mann has Neu! drums and a Kraftwerk keyboard melody. Meaningful has what to me sounds like a Russian group of the Points East variety singing over the riff from You Really Got Me.

It's So Great To Be Me reminded me of John Lennon, circa "Semolina Pilchard", it also has a fine keyboard intermezzo. Stories Of The American Civil Wars had me (unsuccessfully) trying to guess where I had previously heard it. Plumbing is a ballad. Multi Media Bookstore has a B-movie organ, and a guitar coda off 10cc's first album (the one of the same name). True Believer features a nice rhythm section and a vocal interlude that almost sounds like doo-wop. Lake Geneva sounds like a bizarre combination of two Kinks tracks, Dead End Street and Sunny Afternoon; it's banjo and arpeggio guitar again, the piano reminding one of Nicky Hopkins. White Blood Of My Bride, with a tense-sounding guitar, brings the album to its close.

I have to admit I was quite surprised that the album still sounded very good after many listening sessions. Timbral variety and imagination in the arrangements make for the tracks - and also the album as a whole - sounding longer than they really are (this is obviously meant as a compliment!). While I noticed that - day after day - songs sounded less like "quotes", and more like "individual creations", which is not bad, I suppose.

Beppe Colli

© Beppe Colli 2009 | April 23, 2009