Spaceman comes to Earth, fronts rock band!
It sounds like it might be a Weekly World News headline or the subplot to a ‘60s-era Godzilla film, yet this is allegedly what happened when, in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, Von LMO, claiming to have been from the planet Strazar, rose to prominence in NYC’s no wave music scene. Following the release of 1981’s well-regarded Future Language, LMO disappeared from the music scene for more than a decade before returning with 1994’s Cosmic Interception, a more punk-oriented album that contained alternate recordings of tracks from his debut album along with a few new ones (including two with keyboardist and audio engineer Otto von Ruggins). After 1996’s Red Resistor, an album that was at times noisier and more experimental than his earlier work, LMO dropped off the radar again, only to reemerge in 2010 to form Avant Duel in collaboration with von Ruggins.
2012’s Beyond Human marked the first release from Avant Duel, and it stands as a worthwhile continuation of LMO’s unique brand of music. Though in the early days (and especially on the several live recordings that are out there, Live Max’s 1979 being my favorite), LMO almost came across as a PG-rated GG Allin due to the manic intensity of both his performance and the overall music, Beyond Human is very experimental in terms of its sound. Most all the tracks here are fueled by electronic elements which range in mood from being more ominous, mysterious, and menacing to downright playful and at times, dancy. While the album's wide array of sounds keeps a listener guessing as to what’s coming next, it’s clearly the song lyrics, delivered as spoken word and sounding to me like a combination between beat poetry and B-movie sci-fi monologues, that are the featured element, and I suspect could kind of make or break the album for many listeners.
Beyond Human kicks off with “Parallel Universe,” a track which finds LMO discussing out-of-body experiences and a sense of separation that’s reinforced in the hallucinogenic video that seems to position a morphing, omnipotent LMO against a backdrop of earthly images. Considering that one of the things I liked most about LMO’s early records is the prominent use of saxophone, I was glad to find that this opening track adds fleeting sax just under the relentless and hypnotic bass line and bubbling electronic sounds. The subsequent “Robot’s Dream” has a more bouncy feel to it (and an even more trippy music video), though the lyrics continue on the metaphysical path as LMO describes a sort of epiphany coming through the titular event. Moving forward, “Hologram Girl” displays a more aggressive, almost industrial sound based around chugging guitars and pounding percussion, and “Psychodelica” and “Android Delusion” head into more eerie and unsettling sonic territory. Though these last two tracks deal with existential crises, LMO’s approach to them is completely different, seeming at his most vulnerable on “Psychodelica” and more commanding and omniscient on “Delusion.”
Psychodelica actually seems to describe Avant Duel's genre precisely, and one of the best aspects of Beyond Human is that the music compliments the lyrical material quite well. This is particularly true on “ElectroMagnetic Playground.” As Von LMO reenacts a conversation with physicist Nikola Tesla about reverse quantum physics, the music seems to bubble and churn as if a chemical reaction is taking place, with the track breaking down into chaos when Tesla commands LMO to “flip the switch.” Similarly, the upbeat dance music featured in “Alien Playstation,” which finds LMO presenting the sort of theory Ancient Aliens’ David Childress might suggest while gesticulating wildly (“...you have to wonder...”), fits with the concepts. It’s also worth noting that Beyond Human seems to get more “unhuman” as it goes along in terms of its sound and presentation. Down the stretch, Von LMO’s voice is digitized, moved around in the mix, and even completely reversed for the duration of sinister-sounding penultimate track “Dark Rift,” while the album’s title track periodically disintegrates into frenzied cauldrons of noise.
It’s safe to say that I didn’t really know what I was in for with regard to Avant Duel, and wound up spending quite a bit of time immersing myself in the strange yet compelling world of Von LMO music. There’s thematic consistency in his work from one track and/or album to the next, and it almost feels like every LMO release expands on a sort of mythology that’s been unraveling since day one. This tendency also cements the notion of LMO releases being a part of a wider art project, one that a select few is likely to get into and appreciate but may prove too goofy, corny, or just plain weird for casual listeners.
If anything, Beyond Human only reinforces this fact. It feels like an expansive art project rather than your typical music release and, to that end, includes an accompanying 18-page book with some fabulously strange artwork as well as bios and full lyrics. At 75 minutes, it’s also a lengthy album and, since it challenges a listener in terms of its heady, sometimes quite technical, and frequently downright bizarre thematic content, simply not one that I suspect would appeal to some of today’s listeners since one has to put in some effort to reap its rewards.
Nevertheless, I’d recommend this wholeheartedly for those looking for something genuinely different, and particularly to those familiar with Von LMO’s previous work. He certainly is a singular figure in the world of music over the last several decades, and shows no signs of slowing down - Avant Duel released a second album, We Are the Aliens, in 2016, and LMO and von Ruggins have also recently released two improvised psychedelic records, Fugue of Death and Cybercrazed, both of which are interesting in different ways. Advance Yourself, become fluent in Future Language, and give Beyond Human or one of the other Von LMO releases a shot if you’re feeling adventurous.
7.6 / 10
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