splendid > reviews > 12/14/2005
Jess Rowland
Jess Rowland
Scenes from the Silent Revolution

Format Reviewed: CD + DVD

Soundclip: "Vendicam"

Buy me now
It's difficult to put into words precisely how Jess Rowland's music works. Scenes from the Silent Revolution is dominated by a jangly, rattling, sometimes strangely loungy, non-melodic, post-industrial sort of instrumental music. The songs build from hazy beginnings to sharp, overpowered ends, as in "I Was Only Dreaming", or meander menacingly over the horizon, as in "Invisible / Anymore", a sparse, minor key-obsessed piano and drum piece with ghostly, whining vocals.

Opener "Om", an unusually straightforward tune by Rowland's standards, succinctly establishes the composer's anti-corporate culture credentials. The real focus here, though, is the music -- a quirky electronic beat and strangely traditional piano are the basis for stranger synths and burbling electric chatter. "Om" eventually turns out to be pretty, which is quite a surprise, given its initial noisiness. "Bird Signs", a more typical Rowland piece, lingers for a couple of minutes on a fuzzed-out military beat, then devolves into loungy synths and ancient samples, then reverts to the militant beat, and ultimately fades out in a keyboard-tinted haze. "Self-Adhesive Office Cubes" isn't much different from "Bird Signs", but where the latter used fuzzy beats, it employs razor-sharp synthesized percussion, and once the lounge stuff cuts in, it never quite goes away.

It's easy enough to describe any of these pieces as you listen to them, but if you were later asked to explain your like or dislike of the material, you'd probably have a hard time doing so. Rowland's music is elusive, alien and ephemeral. The bad news is that this makes it difficult to connect with; the good news is that once you do make that connection, it's a strong one -- and you're going to want to experience it again and again.

Scenes from the Silent Revolution also includes a DVD, which is far more of a mixed bag. "Ashcroft vs. The Space Librarians" is a surrealistic arrangement of sound bytes from former attorney general John Ashcroft's infamous rendition of "Let the Eagle Soar" on CNN, campy sci-fi and stock footage. Rowland sets this extremely low quality footage against a backdrop of eerie, increasingly discordant electronic music, building to an apocalyptic climax of fireworks and twisted, ruined choral music. Rowland demonstrates genuine insight and sensitivity in her manipulation of Ashcroft's image. However, the less said about the other two films, "The Barbie Explosion" and "McDonaldland is Changing", the better. Whereas "Ashcroft..." follows a subtle, dramatically powerful arc, these grating reworkings of an ancient Barbie anime and a McDonald's children's show are surprisingly clumsy assaults on easy targets.

The cumulative experience of CD and DVD is sometimes frustrating, often unsettling and ultimately more compelling than you'd imagine. Put Scenes from the Silent Revolution in your CD player and you'll probably be a little annoyed. Leave it in for a little while and you'll be intrigued. Listen all the way through and you'll be hooked. Rowland isn't dependable as a filmmaker, but as a musician, the lady knows her shit. Your best bet is to ignore her inconsistent visual material and focus on her subtle, powerful music.



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