Aversion JANUARY 7, 2007 - by Dan Doelker


As disappointing of a year as 2006 turned out to be, it almost seemed like record labels knew the inevitable truth as they trudged through the idea bin for concept records. Just to scratch the surface, last year saw such diverse and weird-ass concepts as a classical White Stripes tribute with Aluminium; a collection of pirate songs and sea chanties with Rogue's Gallery; Mogwai's dramatic-and-dirgy interpretation of idiosyncratic soccer playing on Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait; and perhaps the most notable, the made-for-Vegas-musical soundtrack for The Beatles' Love. The list went on and on, but one that slipped through the cracks of last year's malady of concept releases was devoted to a bizarre look at the biblical plagues.

Plague Songs collects ten tracks, each of which were commissioned as an artistic look into each of the horrors explained in the book of Exodus. Now don't run to grab the good book just yet if you're unfamiliar, as this is no history lesson, but an artful interpolation. In sci-fi laymen's terms, these songs are to the bible as the band in the bar on Tattooine played to the plot of The Empire Strikes Back. Yes, that bizarre.

Starting the record off on an utterly non-biblical note, U.K. grime overlord Kaleshnekoff spits the Lord's Prayer as lyrics, putting a contemporary spin to the age-old lessons in the bible to the oh-so-ghetto Blood. As a supposed nod to the Plague of Blood, listeners will have the urge to scratch their heads upon hearing this. Although it gets no more cryptic than the first track, Plague Songs continue to surprise and befuddle, especially Scott Walker's Darkness. As Walker's interpretation of, you guessed it, the Plague of Darkness, the track is stagnant in style - with a lone tambourine for instrumentation - and pretty random in nature as a very creepy choir screams and chants along to his dismal sounding voice.

There are however, some more straightforward songs about the plagues here as well. Although no track comes right out to read scripture, The Tiger Lillies come the closest with Hailstones, as does Imogen Heap's electro-pop tribute to locusts, Glittering Cloud. However, both have modern references that do a good job of covering up that this might have any religious connotation whatsoever. As does Rufus Wainwright's Katonah, a melancholy ballad about burying a loved one (Death of The Firstborn Son).

The most interesting song here is a collaboration between Brian Eno and Robert Wyatt, that shows two minds wonderfully at work and play. More ambient that pop, the number begins with vocal mimicry of flies buzzing around and at a turtle's pace, becomes a film-score masterpiece, complete with choral moans and static-dosed guitar parts, all before a stark voice rises from the haze to mumble semi-prolific rambling. To a junkie, this might just be the voice of God.

Plague Songs wastes no time, it's a quick listen and doesn't drag out. It is not uniform in content either, which serves this listen up nicely. Most artists might not be recognized on this side of the pond, but regardless, the whole thing comes together as a lesson in diversity and musicianship that is unheard in such releases. Sadly, it's probably too deep a release for most people, but the few lucky ones who this will sing to will definitely appreciate it. The concept-record inspiration of the year goes to... The Bible?!? Probably not, but a worthy effort.