Heinous and atrocious

Last month we received another package from Tetrix, a curious post-rock band from Alberta in Canada, which reminded us that this was the fourth time they sent something, yet I think we’ve only noticed them once in print. I saved all the packages because of their eye-catching qualities…Tetrix also tend towards hyperbole in their own press releases, the likes of which we haven’t seen since Sigue Sigue Sputnik made their fanciful declarations about changing the course of pop music and pop records forever in 1986. Tetrix drop words like ‘astounding’, ‘visionary’, ‘monumental’ and ‘stunning’ with such gay abandon that superlatives are devalued in nothing flat, and it seems that their live shows abound with computer-controlled environments, psychedelic light shows and manipulated video projections. Yet they will also admit that most of their success is currently from airplay on Canadian college radio; and as band member Connor V. Gottfried told me in 2006, they feel themselves to be slightly beleaguered in their home country. “We are based out of a city that is not known for its arts scene,” he wrote, “so it makes us very happy to see that our disc has been played somewhere like London where people know their music! Around here, we’ve been called “worse than terrible”, “heinous and atrocious” and “pure suck” in the local papers so any exposure we get outside of Calgary is a huge help!”

I’m spinning Tetrix 9 (released on their own Odin Audio label) which has a fair degree of variety across its 25 tracks of mutated avant pop-rock, played and produced in deliberately ugly ways that would’ve fitted right in with, say, the Akron New Wave scene of the late 1970s. Some listeners may find the relentless forced wackiness of the singing voices a tad wearisome after a time, but there is skill in the instrumental playing, and the eccentric production techniques are never less than inventive. The abiding impressions are a sort of distanced alienation, mainly caused by the difficulty in deciphering the song lyrics and other information that is being relayed with such perverse opacity; and the fact that I never know where to put myself as a listener, because every other song might be a pastiche or parody of a musical genre with which Tetrix may or may not have a love-hate relationship. Country and western is one such genre into which they sink their collective day-glo teeth, sometimes chortling to themselves as they pour forth their inexplicable lyrics. Tetrix 9 has a psychedelic pastiche cover with purple and black swirls emanating from an enlightened visage, and arrives with a pair of disposable glasses which approximate hallucinogenic effects when you look at lights.

Some years ago we also received TTRX-5, which is ingeniously packaged to look like an old Super Nintendo game, which seems a logical step if you’re going to give your band a name that’s one letter away from being the name of a well-known computer game. Even the inserts in the package (lyric sheet, etc.) are disguised as Nintendo instruction leaflets. The songs here are still pretty alienating, but lack the eccentric production methods which would come a little later. Tetrix come across as just another malcontented slacker band, audibly sneering their jaded observations through bored lips as they swim in guitar sludge of their own making. A fairly dreary listen, but no matter.

About this time last year, they also sent us Tetrix 8, which is packed in a cellophane bag with a strip of sickly green man-made fur and emblazoned with cover stickers. Apparently, they optimistically pressed 10,000 copies of this release. The press release from this time describes them as ‘unsigned’, but this was not an obstacle to their gameplan: ‘By working outside the influence of commercial pressure, the band has been able to forge an identity and sound that would not have been possible within the traditional model’, they asserted. Of the three releases mentioned here, Tetrix 8 may be the most palatable; for the most part the songs trundle along driven by fairly conventional variants on 4/4 rock frameworks, but there are inventive moments in their instrumental combinations, the use of synths and electronic effects to create colourful interruptions and sounds that verge on cheesiness, and once again the heavily-disguised voices that must require the singers to remould their faces, lips and throats into a hideous mask of grimacery. Occasional found samples from TV make you think of a low-rent Negativland, but I can find no ironic counterpoint or subtext in these samples; they just take up space on the tape. Once again, the sheer opacity of their overall approach makes it hard to get a purchase on any underlying meaning, and I remain clueless as to what any of these songs are about. The worldview of Tetrix is still clouded in mystery at this time.

2 comments

  1. I’ve actually heard that tetrix is a joke project by three musicians from Montreal who play in some well known bands there… They send out the CDs to ‘test’ the recipients. My friend Luke is from Montreal and was talking about it last week.

  2. Hi Ed!
    Thanks for taking the time to write a review of our last few offerings. We really appreciate it. Since you seemed to want some clarification in regards to what we are all about, I thought I would give it a shot.
    If I could describe Tetrix in one word it would be “Freedom”. Freedom from the rigid forms that society and other outside forces can often impose on us. So, with this principle in mind we set out to musically explore areas that in one way or another, challenge mainstream music theory.
    The first thing we did, was dispense with the normal songwriting structure. In fact, virtually all of our songs are recorded in one take, completely improvised. And when I say “completely” I mean completely – we rarely try to recreate a song we have already played. Even the lyrics are completely improvised on the spot as we are recording. This is probably what creates one of our weak spots – it is very difficult to sing a line that one is making up on the spot perfectly the first time. As a result, we sometimes have to live with vocal and instrumental parts that are just a bit rough around the edges. But us folks in the band really like that wild, out-of-control sound that one gets when things are done this way.
    Then, usually we will take the raw improvised recording and edit in some changes and splices that we feel are outside the norm, but still enjoyable to the ear. Although opinions may differ on that;-)
    With our improvised lyrics, we generally try to work with themes of freedom and personal empowerment, although the occasional dystopian dirge can find its way in there. Your comments in the review have caused us to consider adding lyric sheets to the CD package, as you are correct in that a lot of songs are rather smeared and difficult to decipher. But as mentioned earlier, we folks in the band really do like this style…
    As for our cover art, we’re glad you liked what we did! We spend a great deal of time with each new cover design, and do our best to try something that we have not seen done before. All of our covers are lovingly hand made by us folks in the band – and yes you are right – 10,000 albums was a bit too ambitious for that. We topped out at around 300 for each new album, most of which we give away to people we think will get a kick out of it:-) It took us days to hand silk screen all of the covers with flourescent pink and glow in the dark ink for Tetrix 9, but we are all really happy with the results so it was worth the effort.
    For our instrumentation, we really make an effort to seek out and learn new instruments. We have picked up a sitar, pedal steel, a big pile of classic synths such as the pro-one and MC-202, the classic Lowrey home organ, guitars and bass, drums with sampling drum pad, piano, digeridoo, harmonica, etc.
    With our synth tracks, we always try to keep it live and real. By this, I mean that we don’t use laptops – everything is switched and run by hand on the fly with old fashioned analog equipment. Things end up a bit more wild and wolly this way, but its a lot of fun! If you want to see an example of this, you can link to a few songs we did live on CJSW radio here:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eu9g8rot_ck

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TDNwuJ0vQQA

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fWcZOyWw5ug

    Our live show is something we are quite proud of these days. We’ve been working on it now for a few years, adding components here and there. If you want a taste of what it looks like, you can see a slideshow of the show live at the Soda here in Calgary on the opening page of our website http://www.tetrix.ca. Really, our philosophy for the live show is that if someone out there is not in to the music, they can still be entertained – custom video, lasers, headgear, custom LED lightshow, and even a smoke cannon that can fire 3 foot smoke rings over 100ft!
    So anyway, I will end this short novel by once again thanking you for the review! I hope this sheds a bit of light on our heinous atrocious sound;-)

    -Krock

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