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Non-Prog CD Reviews

The Bathtub Sophist

Music From An L-Shaped Room CD / EP

Review by Bruce Stringer

New Zealander, Arron Stewart (aka The Bathtub Sophist), has produced an EP of interesting electro-synthetic industrial grooves and harder edged funk / metal with repetitive loops and samples. Initially, one might feel his project would suit a listener with a more eccentric, experimental leaning – although some of his heavier work seems to embody the spirit of units like The Ministry. In that manner, the music is quite digestible especially with the strength of his fun retro pop numbers that offset the heaviness of the industrial elements. Stewart’s use of the vocoder (voice synthesizer) in place of actual singing places his project on a different level than others of this caliber.

The hand drawn, homemade look of the artwork embodies the DIY ethos of The Bathtub Sophist and this, in turn, reflects the novelty of the project which is freely available from Stewart’s myspace site. 

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2008  Volume 5 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
The Breakbot
With an electro-heavy beat and 80s vocoder robot sounds, “The Breakbot” is reminiscent of a Chemical Brothers dance floor track. There are a couple of retro samples and much of this style of composition has been done numerous times before, but it is interesting to hear this man’s take on the whole genre. Emphasis is on repetition but at a radio friendly 3 minutes it’s compact enough to retain its ‘old school’ novelty and charm.
Booty Called
As an exercise, this has some interesting moments in it – complete with telephone answering machine, erotic female noises and saxophone bursts. The drums are very ‘real’ sounding with a loose open hi-hat and the guitar work is more jazz than rock, adding to the odd nature of this beast. With humorous title setting up both the telephony theme and ‘adult’ leanings, the sax phrasings add to kitsch value. The fade out may seem a little premature however, by this time, the concept has been explored and exercised to maximum efficiency.
Saint Mungo
In complete contrast, this 3rd track is a very heavy industrialized electronic number – though you wouldn’t know it from the New Age organ introduction! As double bass pedals hit the sub woofers, this drags you by the ear into the often-unsettling world of Ministry. Its aggression is polar opposite to “The Breakbot” and might have made more dynamic shock if placed directly after the opener. There is a conversation track (a la Pink Floyd) that adds some depth to the listening experience, though it tends to hold to its looped format throughout a relentless 4:23. It’s hard and fast fun!
Binary
“Binary” verges on low-fi experimentalism with a strict drum machine beat, D.I.’ed guitar and binary vocal mantra. It’s also quite fun and takes itself way less seriously than comparable material out in music land, which makes for a change. Stewart has managed to create a love child between the electro-pop and the industrialized with four bar loops and the return of the robot voice. As obvious as it is lighthearted, “Binary” continues the musical novelty that is one of the strengths on this release.
Don't Be Afraid of the Dark
This final track on the EP appears to be the production piece. The drums are the main focus whereby Stewart adds some spooky effects and thematics, making for a mood vehicle rather than a traditional, predictable song. At times, the actual beat is reminiscent of Led Zeppelin’s “When The Levee Breaks” and this carries through until the final moments of the 6:15 running time. There are no soaring, dynamic changes, instead the loop-like repetition acts as a mantra. The promotional material for “Music From An L-Shaped Room” describes this as “…a bittersweet, ambient instrumental,” which I would tend to agree with considering its lingering melancholia.
 
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