Ulan Bator

Ulan Bator

The Ulan Bator album was released by YGR in late 2000. There’s a few copies of this CD still available, and you can get via download too. It’s well worth checking out. Among other things, a few of them play with the band Faust these days. Look ‘em up on the web. Below is the original press release, as well as a few reviews from the time

- Michael Gira/Young God Records, 2008

One summer, in the midst of a debilitating heat-wave, Ulan Bator and I (complete strangers to each other at the time) locked ourselves up in a tiny recording studio in a village just north of Florence, Italy, for 18 hours a day for three weeks. We got to know each other pretty quickly! Of course I'd heard demos of the material that eventually became the songs on this recording, and I'd heard (and been a fan of) their earlier records, but as we started to work it became obvious to everyone that we had to be open to anything, to be willing to start from scratch in some cases - just throw everything out the window and make something happen right now if we were going to rise to the potential of the moment. So, much (though certainly not all) of this music was written and/or (re)arranged on the spot, as we worked, under increasingly intense pressure. Adrenaline, stress, heat, chaos, and panic, combined with the language barrier (they're French, the engineer was Italian), forced us into places we never expected to end up in, which to me, was incredibly elating. In some cases the basis for the song started with just a groove, or an electronic sound, or a vocal idea, or an accidental noise, and was eventually wrestled into the final version you'll hear on this CD (though other songs are re-arranged versions of material they'd previously worked out). To watch them play, cramped up in the miniscule (about 8' x 12', as I recall) recording booth - bass, drums, guitar and amps included - strangling the groove out of their instruments with completely uncynical and unselfconscious commitment (and this from unrepentant, intellectual "art rockers" - a breed I usually find to be pretty anemic, at best, and merely clever, or "hip", at worst), was a joy I'll never forget. Their musicality and their dedication to making something powerful and clear out of whatever raw materials were at their disposal at the time (sometimes a grand piano, for instance, or other times a piece of looped digital feedback), coupled with their immense knowledge and enthusiasm for the music they love that's gone before them - from the Beatles and Beach Boys to New York No Wave to Krautrock to experimental electronic music - combined to make this, I think, a great "experimental rock" record - or whatever genre you want to call it. To me personally, it's one of the most rewarding records in which I've ever been involved, and it's an honor to be able to release it on Young God Records. I think if you listen to it with even a fraction of the pure enthusiasm of its intent, you'll find much to enjoy here. As for the lyrics being sung in French: Tough luck, they are French.

Michael Gira /Young God Records 2001

A few reviews:


5/1/2001 | allmusic.com | Andy Kellman

Ulan Bator | Ego:Echo | Review

AMG Expert Review

Musical train wreck scenarios? Wait—here's one. What do you get when you lock an American producer and label head (Swans' Michael Gira), an Italian engineer, and an experimental rock band from France in a dinky sweat box located in Florence? You've got oppressive heat and three languages. Is that not enough? How about this? The band has to materialize most of the songs on the spot. It sounds like a mess, but this unlikely situation produced an hour's worth of heavy duty, top-drawer avant rock. It would be lazy and limiting to merely say that Ulan Bator's first U.S.-distributed record will appeal to those who think Sonic Youth lost it once they entered the '90s. You can hear their oddly tuned menace during the first two minutes of "Santa Lucia," but that passage—which sets up several minutes of plodding malaise—manages to sound nastier and better produced. And if it weren't for the French vocals and periodic piano tinklings, "La Joueuse de Tambour" would be right at home on the second side of Sister. The first ten minutes of "Let Go Ego" offers dubby flow motion (who knew the French could dub it up?), followed by the entrance of dynamic guitars and Hammond atmospherics, capped with wordless chanting and the repeated phrase of "Let go ego." Experimentalism and self-consciousness seem to go hand in hand, but not here. That's what makes the record all the more exciting. It would be wise of Ulan Bator to continue working with Gira. Their collaboration clearly yielded something greater and more powerful than they had expected. It's an ideal mix of noise, rhythm, and filmic sound sculpting. Very clearly, this power(ful) trio is the finest French rock export since Metal Urbain.

3/1/2001 | LA WEEKLY | Jay Babcock ULAN BATOR Ego: Echo | Review Rituel Humain

Ulan Bator: two words that conjure up some sexy female assassin from a forgotten Roger Moore–era Bond flick but are actually the name of an obscure and incredible French rock group (as well as the capital of Mongolia, ‘course). The album Ego: Echo was released in late 2000 by its producer, ex–Swans leader Michael Gira, on Young God Records (his label/labor of love), but has received nowhere near the audience it deserves. That’s unfortunate, because here, on full display for 65 minutes, is everything that “post-rock” 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 — and often jettisoned altogether.

For some reason, this new freedom usually means we’re in for some intellectual exercise — music that ignores the senses, the groin, the flesh, e.g., Tortoise, Sonic Youth’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 “Santa Luci” 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; “Etoile Astre” is a wicked version of the Meters’ full-ensemble locked funk; “Let Go Ego” is an epic 16-minute banishing ritual that collapses/climbs from ring-drone to Savage Republic march to four minutes of four repeated syllables — “Letttt go/Eeee-go.”

But for all this tight music made in tight quarters, there’s a strange spaciousness, too: Tracks like the opening “Hemisphere,” the lovely, downbeat “Hiver” and the late-Swansesque “La Joueuse de Tambour” are not without a certain sensual grandeur. This is music without a manifesto (or Jim O’Rourke) — music that remembers it’s played by human beings.