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Milk Cult 

Project M-13

Wednesday, Apr 5 2000
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Milk Cult
Project M-13
(O to 1)

Mysteriously guarding the identities of the trio of Cult leaders, the group only identifies its members by the pseudonyms of Agent Nova, the Bumblebee, and Conko. But those familiar with the unparalleled melodic noise-rock of San Francisco's lamentably lost Steel Pole Bathtub and its creative duo of guitarist/vocalist Mike Morasky and bassist/ vocalist Dale Flattum will recognize the masterminds at work with sampling whiz Conko. Offered a prestigious government-sponsored arts grant in the spring of 1997, the trio converged in Marseilles with a multitude of musicians -- including Corsican singers, Buddhist chanters, electronics twiddlers, hip hop artists, industrial noise forces, and a 30-piece African orchestra -- to record hundreds of hours' worth of sounds. When each collaborating artist or group had contributed basic backing tracks, the trio then edited, played over, and digitally garbled the recordings into something entirely new. The resulting Project M-13 is a bizarre soundscape of trippy beats, ominous riffing, and unintelligible vocal rants.

The previous Milk Cult album, 1995's Burn or Bury, was largely an exercise in sampler tinkering and guest collaboration (including Faith No More and Mr. Bungle vocalist Mike Patton). Project M-13 refines the trio's skills, and also reveals the Cult's true talent for creating ominous and occasionally beautiful melodies amid a flurry of disparate sounds. It opens softly, with an almost deceptively mellow track merging Hawaiian slide guitars, chirping birds, and feedback over barely audible waves of throaty mumbling and screams. Soon enough, the record begins lobbing out combinations of fuzz bass, accordion, tape loops, guitars, marching drums, hip hop beats, mellifluous singing, screams, and just about anything else Milk Cult's got handy in the hard drive. "Slink-Fest" pits two wailing, overdriven guitars, holding and bending a single high note, up against an unnerving horror film-style single-note piano, slinking down-tuned bass. and perky trip hop.

"Slow-Twisted," like a traditional torch song, features an impassioned woman's French monologue and a funeral-procession organ that nods to Julie London's existential celebration "Is That All There Is?" But Milk Cult's unique twist places humming melodic beelike drones beneath the song for added angst. Closing with dueling sludgy acid-rock guitars dripping over a sampled disco rhythm, Project M-13 manages to cram together elements of every musical genre imaginable -- and make it all sound natural.

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Dave Clifford

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