This 22 track beast compiles as many years worth of skewed and screwed avant-rock from an entourage of under-the-radar Frenchmen. It's difficult to describe La STPO without name- and genre-dropping yourself into obfuscation; strains of mind-melting prog-rockers like Magma and Henry Cow reveal themselves most readily, while the band's earliest material (especially "Un") recalls the radiant pop edges of Robert Wyatt's seventies LPs, while anticipating the way Don Caballero would jazz up big hair rock -- assuming, of course, that it's possible for songs to touch on both of those poles at once. To top it all off, the vocals -- a dense choir of frenzied yelps and strained falsettos -- approximate a Bobcat Goldthwaite guest spot on a Ruins track.
La STPO keep their shit together by mastering each of the voices they assume. Just as Joe Strummer's firm handle on early rock and R&B idioms allowed him to borrow freely from those forms to turn pop music convention on its head, La STPO's schizophrenic oscillations between operatic prog, RIO, egghead pop and proto-math rock provide the group with opportunities to bend style in a way that mirrors the political unrest expressed in their lyrics. It's punk rock without the simplification and repetition, subverting through a brutally comic pastiche that at once celebrates and laughs in the face of its touchstones' inherent virtuosity. These songs ground art-rock into the dirt while implicitly embracing it. It's hard to tell which is more laudable (or laughable) -- La STPO's work or the music it smashes.
The group's experiments usually justify their irreverence. "Avant" dabbles in noise and melody and dazzles on both counts, building from deft swordsmanship between nimble guitar and ascending contrabass to a squealing klaxon. "L'Explositionniste" also counters noodly reeds with furious scuzz, sounding like a degenerate fusion-era take on Cecil Taylor's Unit Structures. However, La Combat Occulté's finest moment may be its most visceral: "Bebalanbebant" is sheer animal magnetism, melding prowling gut-punch bass with ejaculatory catcalls and exploding into acid rock holy terror that would make Ray Russell smile. Here, La STPO crack skulls as effortlessly as they break rules, proving themselves to be more than an intellectual game.