Is the latter-day counterculture running out of fat, juicy corporate targets, or is absurdism the new outrage? Thigmotactic, Negativland's latest culture-jam, feels more art-project bizarro than protest polemic, more bemused than hopping mad. It's especially tactile and palatable, the sound of this California collective snickering softly not at Fortune 500s, rock stars, or power-grabbers--as it did so cuttingly on 1991's U2 and 1997's Dispepsi--but at us, you and me, for allowing ourselves to grow ignorant, lazy, and complacent.
Thigmotactic's obvious strength is its largely organic construction and full-tilt weirdness; assorted samples are present, but they're in the backseat, leaning forward. Listening blind, you might mistake this for an obscure They Might Be Giants or Dr. John record. A mock lullaby cobbled together using a heavenly-choir-ish "Greensleeves" sample, percussive bric-a-brac, and pitch-shifting tricks, "Steak on a Whim" pokes gentle fun at America's obesity epidemic and international environmental rape. "It's Not a Critique" sets a talk- radio argument about the gross disparity between media and public concerns to cheesed-out disco. On "Extra Sharp Pencils," Mark Hosler's folk-pop pining for some absent loved one is defined solely via objects: `The food that you make that I eat with my fork/ The car that you fix when the eight-track is broke/ The Dunhill cigarettes you occasionally smoke."
At points, Negativland appear to spurn messages altogether. For example, "Omnipotent Struggle" is a sort of world-music oasis, a rainforest cascade of Thai flutes, struck harps, percolating synths, and woodpeckered bongos that is ocean-breeze refreshing--until you scan the track's liners and find the all-too-true Chris Floyd quote about incremental American fascism.