Brooklyn-based Excepter’s first album for the Animal Collective-run Paw Tracks label is a solid affirmation of their bleary, agonistic electro-cabaret. Debt Dept. is a full-on atmospheric urban horrorshow, where scattershot beats and tortured soul wails evoke a shadowy, hostile cityscape and its subhuman denizens.
“Kill People” takes the titular phrase and repeats it until it loses all impact, becoming a hollow zombie chant. Elsewhere, machine rhythms twitter and clang to themselves in an empty factory. The density of Excepter’s throbbing, gristly electronics makes it at times easy to imagine a guest rap verse from Rammellzee, the New York afro-futurist whose early-’80s collaboration with Jean-Michel Basquiat, “Beat Bop,” remains a touchstone for any exploration of hip-hop-fueled urban menace.
An arguable precursor to Excepter’s style in general is "Nightclubbing," the opener to Iggy Pop’s The Idiot. Iggy precedes Excepter not only chronologically but conceptually: They’re bookends to a long Saturday night. While Iggy’s attention is on the chemical frenzy, the nihilistic partying, Excepter sound like what you hear in your head when it’s some delirious hour, your friends have all gone home and you’re about to black-out on the sidewalk. The remarkable thing about some of these tracks is that they go on — that they don’t just lie there in the gutter and expire. There’s some kind of inhuman pulse that keeps them upright, albeit hunched or cowering, to keep scratching their way through the dark.
The downside of this is that Debt Dept., like a lot of Excepter’s music, has its meandering moments — although it should be said that the band’s purposefully disoriented song structures and haunted-city soundtracks pretty much require that the way get lost now and again, or at least occluded. After several tracks of lurching on scabbed knees, the album gets up and sprints for the final two. It’s a perverse burst of energy, much like what momentarily course through the nerves of a dying bird, inducing one last winged rush to escape, the strange twitch of the life instinct being snuffed out.
Devo famously described their music as “the sound of things falling apart.” Debt Dept. is something like the sound of those fallen things being ground into dust, yet eerily refusing to die.