For a while now I have been convinced that the sound that best evokes the zeitgeist of this moment is music for a parade, something celebratory-but-rueful, a melancholy protest dance for the streets and our living rooms. The sound is somewhere between a disco thump and a dirge, a rambunctious carnival pulse and a funeral march, reflecting the tumultuous upheaval, ambivalence, and sorrow swirling around us as we try to safely coalesce. Contained in this sound is the longing to feel the joy of collective movement, all together once again. Orchestre Tout Puissant Marcel Duchamp presents a good case for my thesis. Their fifth album, We're OK. But We're Lost Anyway manifests this concept with a rhythmic, droning, layered musical montage of jazz, pop, Celtic, African, and Latin beats, soulful lyrics, and the kinds of sonic collective build one only gets with large groups playing as an ensemble, in real time.
Orchestre Tout Puissant Marcel Duchamp is a multi-national group based in Switzerland of elastic size and morphing genres. Blending acoustic with the electronic and heavy on the percussions and brass, there is also an impressive string section. Together they offer an assortment of hypnotic melodies that beg to be moved to. Itís a rich and knowing mix with bits of Radiohead, The Sons of Kemet, Gang of Four, The Bad Plus, Drycleaning, the 5th Dimension, Bjork, The Talking Heads, and Philip Glass thrown in for good measure. Like their surreal namesake, they collage and appropriate in a traditionally western way, freely plundering and mining global genres and traditions to create pop-inflected moody earworms. The whole project possesses an art-school tinged, big band smartness with an international outlook. Purists might object, but I would argue that pattern-mixing, cultural sampling, and a collision of influences are exactly what make this taste so much like the flavor of the moment, in the best possible way. Itís really textured, interesting listening. The music ebbs and builds, each track beginning sparsely and layering up into urgent sonic waves.
As their liner notes clarify, human heedlessness and the climate crisis are at the heart of the matter with askew world politics, a critique of capitalism and the Pandemic thrown in for good measure, creating a soundtrack at once ebullient and keening. The lyrics are rife with loss and ambivalence and yet manage to be hopeful, empowering, and joyful.
My favorites are " Empty Skies," " So Much (to Feel Guilty About)," " Blabber," " Flux," "We Can,We Can," but really We're OK. But We're Lost Anyway plays best as a whole- a concept album cycling through the moment to repeat again. I am torn about which video for "So Much (to Feel Guilty About)" to recommend. The animation in the lyrics video evokes Russian Suprematism, American Minimalism and a Swiss graphic design sensibility, while the live studio version shows off beautifully their collective skill and delivers an energetic you-are-there-behind-the-scenes feeling. Why not watch both?
Our ability to congregate together is a precious gift. Orchestre Tout Puissant Marcel DuchampĎs take on this pleasure is a lavish and marvelously live-sounding recording. Having a 12-piece orchestra feels like a swooning extravagance, an aural wonder and it really speaks to the moment in a poignant way.
Find the orchestre online.