Pitchfork review of Anti-Magic

Foot Village
[Upset the Rhythm; 2009]

The music of Foot Village is loud, spastic, and often complicated. But it always poses one simple question: “How much can you take?” Not that the L.A. quartet’s sound is overly harsh or even noisy. In fact, they almost never use guitars or other electric instruments, just drums and voices. But on Anti-Magic, their third LP, almost every track offers something to test your endurance. On “Reggae War Zone”, it’s a bratty “nah nah nah”; on “Grace’s Death”, it’s throat sounds that verge on graphic gagging; and on “National Jamthum”, it’s the operatic croon of lines like “We’re all on acid!/ And some of us on PCP!” What’s more, most songs here roll on past the point where you’d expect them to relent.

And yet somehow Anti-Magic is not annoying, at least not for anyone who values energy and commitment. The group hurls themselves so devoutly into every second that their urgency becomes contagious. It’s a trait they share with the band they most resemble sonically, the Boredoms. Their muscular multi-drumming, intricate beats, and unintelligible screams could all be conducted by Eye Yamatanka himself. But without the safety net of guitars, Foot Village can sound as naked as they look on Anti-Magic’s cover. As a result, their approach risks being grating, gimmicky, or just plain tedious.

Those are dangers the band members are skilled at confronting. Brian Miller and Grace Lee come from Gang Wizard, a shambling noise group prone to bouts of glorious ineptitude. Josh Taylor was in Friends Forever, who played cartoon-metal shows from inside their tour van. Both bands had spilling, unpredictable energy, but Foot Village opts for rigorous precision. Nothing here is improvised, and it all has the feel of a ritual. So the labor that these songs require often pushes them past formality into cathartic workouts.

When that happens, Foot Village’s chanting voices and slamming percussion unite in one furious stomp. On “Reggae War Zone”, Lee swings as she spurts out, “This a war for the human race!” Later, a male voice– presumably Miller’s– barks in time to the rolling rhythm of “Death of the Endless”, like a sharp horn in a sax-drums duet. And on the anthemic “Anti-Magic”, a bouncing beat inspires the group’s best invective: “We believe in nothing/ Because nothing is what’s true!”

About that belief: apparently Anti-Magic is a concept album about a war against magic and spirituality (a follow up to last year’s Friendship Nation, purportedly about a land where “our national language is drumming [and] our national pass-time [sic] is screaming”). All this is pretty hard to discern beyond a few chants about death and destruction, though the band does have a knack for pithy slogans like “We write love songs in a secret language that no one can resist!” But however unclear the themes are, there is definitely something guiding Foot Village through their hectic, impossible-to-leave-on-in-the-background music.

That music may ultimately be more engaging in concert, judging by videotaped evidence from the Smell, the L.A. mecca that Miller helps run. But even if Foot Village’s records are less essential than their shows, they’re not afterthoughts. And don’t be surprised if Anti-Magic’s pound-and-scream ends up compelling you to turn it up rather than off.

— Marc Masters, August 27, 2009

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