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Desolation Row

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Album Review

For over 40 years, guitarist, composer, philosopher, and political activist Richard Pinhas has been a constant force of innovation on the cultural scene. He has continually made music that challenges accepted notions of everything from rock & roll's basic structures, to prog's expectations, to noise music's often narrow ideas about invention, and engaged weightier ideas about sociological and political environments. His records either under the Heldon moniker or his own name, have been enduring testaments to avant-rock's possibilities as it battles with and revisions technology and accepted notions of music making. Desolation Row is deemed by some to be a return to the radical roots of the early Electronique Guerilla-esque recordings Pinhas made with Heldon in the early '70s; an explorative political music deeply informed by the 1968 student-led uprising in Paris in which he participated. But that's wrong: Desolation Row is an urgent, militant continuation of an ever-evolving sonic and social aesthetic that has never really abated and the first part of his "devolution" trilogy. Enlisting Oren Ambarchi, Lasse Marhaug, Etienne Jaumet, Noel Akchote, Eric Borelva, and his son, Duncan, these six lengthy tracks are the aural equivalent of strategic combat, in which Pinhas takes on the crisis and curse of neoliberalism (and rightly calls it "teknofacism") ushered in by the corporate control of governments. He hears it as his way of bringing power to the people, through joy, anger, and release. Rock, noise, sonic extrapolation, and power electronics collide, meld, dialogue, and morph inside a musical exploration that bridges its own frontier. Opener "North" commences with a squelching oscillator, pulsing synth, drums, and layers of bass, distorted guitars, and keyboards in a kinetic, entrancing sprawl. "Square" uses a conventional rock drum shuffle to pace layered, droning keyboards and his gradually unfolding guitar inquiry that weaves together blues guitar phrasing, rock dynamics, and jazz harmonics. "South" employs subtly shifting synths and layers of feedback; it initially signals a break in the action but gradually builds as drums and soloing guitars erect a wall of aural tension that explodes. The set's longest cut, "Moog," uses the synth as the jumping-off point. It evolves from a tightly controlled dynamic tension into freewheeling improv a soundworld away. The long closer, "Drone," builds upon sine wave resonation and wafting tone delays that allow the guitars to meander into a screaming, power-drone rage of noise electronics and droning feedback spreading over 16-plus minutes. On Desolation Row, Pinhas and his bandmates explore vast emotional and musical terrain. They convince the listener that by reaching into unknown terrains of creative expression as primary forces, they are in reality engaging in necessary acts of resistance and opposition to a perilous world order.


Born: May 7, 1951

Genre: Rock

Years Active: '70s, '80s, '90s, '00s, '10s

French guitarist Richard Pinhas led the group Heldon from 1974-78, releasing seven albums with that group and six solo LPs, often featuring members of Heldon. Born in 1951, Pinhas earned a Ph.D. in philosophy at the Sorbonne and taught at that school. In 1972 he became a part of Schizo, a group whose music contained a great deal of electronics. After Schizo's demise, Pinhas formed Heldon, whose only constant was himself. Pinhas' solo work covered a lot of ground. His first solo LP, Rhizosphere, was...
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Desolation Row, Richard Pinhas
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