Dylan Ettinger is a beast. Since I began writing this review on his recent Lion of Judah/Baptism Single, he has already come out with a new release on Moon Glyph. I really wanted to try and get this review out, so that it would be up-to-date with what Ettinger is doing, but the Moog-madman keeps moving at a lightning pace. This just goes to show his work ethic. Before I can even finish writing something about Lion of Judah/Baptism, he comes out with something new.
In the last several years, it seems like Dylan Ettinger has never sat still. In 2008 in Warsaw, Indiana, Ettinger started up El Tule (http://eltule.org/), an independent label that specializes in releasing cassette tapes from various artists. Since then he’s written and recorded more than half a dozen releases including One Rude Dude, Smokin’, Cutters, and his highly acclaimed New Age Outlaws. He has traveled and gigged all over the states, most notably playing at SXSW this past March. Ettinger also collaborates with other artists, and this can be seen on Lion of Judah/Baptism as Drekka was brought onboard to add Melodica to the title track. In between all of this artistic output he also found time to study at Indiana University and hold a job. Currently residing in Bloomington, Indiana, the 23 year-old Dylan Ettinger continues to move forward with his music.
To those new to Ettinger’s synth-scape style, the first listen can be overwhelming. But rest assured, Ettinger is not some psychedelic wannabe who plays endless stoner jams on a synth. His songs are well thought-out, highly developed, and complex pieces of art. The sheer size and intricacy of his oeuvre shows that Dylan Ettinger puts more effort than most into his work, and he continually strives to create meaningful and interesting compositions.
Furthermore, Ettinger is a savant when it comes to electronic music. He occasionally makes guest appearances on music blogs, writing about former electronic trends and recommending some of the most important songs. The man’s knowledge is by no means limited to Kraftwerk.
On Dylan Ettinger’s Lion of Judah/Baptism 7” release from Not Not Fun Records the only intelligible lyrics that occur are “Lion of Judah” and “A baptism in blood is better than none”. But the minimal role of the lyrics does not lessen the Single’s impact. Lion of Judah/Baptism consists of the two tracks: “Lion of Judah” (Video above) and “Baptism”, both of which are more concise and more openly melodic than a lot of Ettinger’s previous work. The two songs combined run no longer than 9 minutes and have clear, analyzable ABABA and ABCCCB pop forms.
Ettinger has created two songs that fit into the forms and time frames of pop music, but simultaneously pervert this genre by the use of excessive synthesizers, excessive reverb, and minimal lyrics. Although this Single is not quite as ambitious or impressive as his New Age Outlaws, it still provokes important questions and reveals a lot about the Moog-madman and his art.
One of the first things we notice with Lion of Judah/Baptism is that the songs are placed within a religious context. The Lion of Judah has a long history, most notably connected to the Jewish tradition, but also has associations with Christianity and Rastafarianism. The name of the B-Side “Baptism” clearly references the Christian faith. The Official “Lion of Judah” Video, by Nathan Vollmar and William Winchester Claytor, plays with pictures from Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio’s famous baroque pieces The Taking of Christ and Salome receives the head of Saint John the Baptist.
(Compare 2:22-23 on the Youtube video with http://www.nationalgallery.ie/en/Collection/Selected%20Highlights/selectedhighlights/Caravaggio.aspx
But Ettinger’s representations of these religious symbols are portrayed in dark, slow, lumbering beats, with droning bass lines, spacey synths and ambiguous vocal work. The combination of the lumbering songs and the religious symbolism send the listener into a meditative state, where religion’s intents and purposes are hazily mixed with absurdity and the electronic music developed in the second half of the 20th Century.
“Lion of Judah” is particularly interesting, because Ettinger takes the listener to a world that is very different from the future Metropolis of New Age Outlaws. The world of “Lion of Judah” is like some religious cave, where the Lion howls his name at the listener, asking for respect and appreciation. The sensation is regal, yet somehow uncomfortable.
The words from the second song, “A baptism in blood is better than none” combined with wild theremin-esque sounds also create an eerie sensation. It is almost as if Ettinger himself is dunking the listener’s head into a river of blood, just as John the Baptist dunked Jesus into the Jordan.
Ettinger’s work is all about the musical worlds he creates and how the listener survives inside those worlds. The alternate realities are fascinating experiences that make us question why our actual reality exists in its current shape and form. If Jesus were baptized in blood, would Christians today then also be baptized in blood? If the Lion of Judah were to be used by a contemporary religious group (i.e. the Rastafarians), does that make the same symbol less meaningful? These and other important questions trudge through the mind as Ettinger’s beats trudge towards the end of each song.
Ettinger’s music naturally leads each listener to different questions and to different imagined worlds, but the religious interpretation is something that cannot be overlooked. Ettinger’s religious statement in this 7” Single is something that strays away from the general protestant beliefs of his former hometown, Warsaw, Indiana. The listeners of Lion of Judah/Baptism will find a Dylan Ettinger who has left Northern Indiana behind. He left a place where his ideas were not appreciated and where his art was misunderstood. Just like Dylan Ettinger himself, the power of his Lion of Judah/Baptism Single can easily be overlooked, if one doesn’t stop and try to understand it.
Check out Dylan Ettinger’s Bandcamp here: http://dylanettinger.bandcamp.com/
Latest news and updates here: http://www.twitter.com/dylanettinger
Get your hands on a copy of Ettinger’s latest release “Pattern Recursion” on Moon Glyph before they sell out. Scroll down a little ways and look under “Cassette”: http://www.moonglyph.com/
May 27, 2011