ULAN BATOR Ego: Echo | ReviewRituel Humain Ulan Bator: two words that conjure up some sexy female assassin from a forgotten Roger MooreÂ–era Bond flick but are actually the name of an obscure and incredible French rock group (as well as the capital of Mongolia, Â‘course). The album Ego: Echo was released in late 2000 by its producer, exÂ–Swans leader Michael Gira, on Young God Records (his label/labor of love), but has received nowhere near the audience it deserves. ThatÂ’s unfortunate, because here, on full display for 65 minutes, is everything that Â“post-rockÂ” promises but almost never delivers: Rock instruments (guitar-bass-drums-Hammond-vocals) are used, but rock-music rules (4:30 max, verse/chorus/verse structure, standard chord progressions) are relaxed Â— and often jettisoned altogether.
For some reason, this new freedom usually means weÂ’re in for some intellectual exercise Â— music that ignores the senses, the groin, the flesh, e.g., Tortoise, Sonic YouthÂ’s last two discs. But Ego: Echo is defiantly, intensely alive: Its songs are sweated out, its vocals delivered past wine-stained lips. Its instruments touch, grate, rub and reflect on each other, intimate to the point of claustrophobia, reproducing on audiotape the 96-square-foot Italian recording booth in which the songs were recorded in ensemble. So Â“Santa LuciÂ” is undeniable and in-your-face-and-through-to-your-brain: a thundering, supertight cabaret groove that breaks into Can-space in its third minute; Â“Etoile AstreÂ” is a wicked version of the MetersÂ’ full-ensemble locked funk; Â“Let Go EgoÂ” is an epic 16-minute banishing ritual that collapses/climbs from ring-drone to Savage Republic march to four minutes of four repeated syllables Â— Â“Letttt go/Eeee-go.Â”
But for all this tight music made in tight quarters, thereÂ’s a strange spaciousness, too: Tracks like the opening Â“Hemisphere,Â” the lovely, downbeat Â“HiverÂ” and the late-Swansesque Â“La Joueuse de TambourÂ” are not without a certain sensual grandeur. This is music without a manifesto (or Jim OÂ’Rourke) Â— music that remembers itÂ’s played by human beings.