DECAYCAST Reviews : NEGATIVLAND “True False ” LP/DL (Seeland, 2019)
If “True False” doesn’t destroy the world, it might just save it. I’m not one bit sure which would be worse. I dare anyone to listen on headphones walking through San Francisco’s Twitternob at twilight as socialmedia workers disperse and sidewalk-blanket markets roll out. Embracing the eviscerated stupidities of consumer society and then fighting to get free of those same idiot entrails now draped across your brain could make Negativland your solo silentdisco dance craze. Inside your head will be not only the sounds of marketforce lunacy, but the ghost traces of three Negativland members who’ve already shuffled off this mortal coil, Ian Allen, Don Joyce, Richard Lyons, kicking their heels at the Earth, the butterfly’s butterfly effect, and members still enfleshed, Mark Hosler, David Wills, Peter Connheim and Jon Leidecker with contributions from Ava Mendoza, Nava Dunkleman, M.C. Schmidt and Prairie Prince but their work is swept into a torrent of sampled language and sound, the electrocuted-elephant effect.
Since we’re all of us asleep all the time and find ourselves only occasionally awake on top of that, it occurs to me Negativland works the same way the human subconscious does. Both are made of always-on memory and an involuntary urge to chew up whatever isnt already pink slurry, gnawing in search of that single calorie of nourishment. The transcendental moment may be when you recognize it’s all going down the hatch anyway, out of sight, out of conscious mind. Like the gut, the subconscious isn’t built to chuck things back up for inspection. But barfing is underrated. Like food industry slurry, the ideology industry perfected its methods, designed to evade inspection, no eyes on the kill line, packaged for volume consumption. Negativland is underrated, their music serves as spectacular emetic, geysering your feed to sandblast the monolith of fiat happiness.
“It is Californians’ God-given right to water their lawnsYou know, there is no way to argue with thatPrint the manifesto print the manifestoDo you own research.No way to argue with that.Except with explosives.”
Of the multiple contexts Negativland evokes, mid-20th century ad-man polish has become their arch brand. The smiling voice that locates us in inert collective conscience, situating us in the vacuum space of capitalism’s dominant cultural mode: the con. Having seized pop music and advertising’s means of production, Negativland have long been masters of the weaponized ear worm. Each wriggler is impaled on a barbed hook of dense wordplay, segmented samples sourced from the mediasphere are always-already persuasive, wriggling mashups that compel close-reading at first just to hear the slogan, but then to anchor the preposterous and political contexts from which each source has been sampled. Unabashed about dense language and conceptual complexity, those who refuse to listen will still find their minds on the hook. They may suffer, commercial jingles rendered undigestible by semantic clusterbombs, their preferred identities and rationalizations perpetually stranded between disbelief and stalled rebellion. Close listening requires a doubling of cognitive dissonance, the line, the sources of the line, infrasectionality with the world before you. This doubling is itself a survival strategy for life under late capitalism, to ditch habituated scripts and act in the incomparable present.
“My life in the woods has been ruinedStand by.Pending final test.This noise!Wonderful isn’t it.The sound of American inventiveness.I may go mad.But think of the future you have. Isn’t it our responsibility to bring that about? Stand by. The question is lost in the sound of the explosion. Unfortunately. We. You. We are not destroying anything. We. And the creatures that assemble your phone. It’s easy to imagine the end of the world.”
The album includes a booklet that warns “Play twice before reading.” Inside, the crafted lines are transcribed as lyrics so reading without listening separates each verse from the aural context of each sample. Pulling sources out of context is the most basic method of propaganda, but Negativland makes poetry from propaganda inviting us to another possibility entirely. The poetry of “True False” asserts a politics that doesn’t need to preach or cancel when it can surpass by wide margins of wit and a call to run, hide, then fight back. “True False” bears vital witness to floundering habitually disingenuous simplistic cons that paralyze collective action. Desire and derision may yet survive the slurry to congeal again, the Golem of post-consumer conscience.