There are those who may still argue that where you're from is more important than anything else. But, as one wise young man once pointed out, it's not about where you're from, it's actually about where you're at. And if that's the case, then DEAD MAN RAY's origins in Berchem, near Antwerp, are absolutely irrelevant. Where they are at is the crossroads between dark-suited, cigarette smoking Belgian sophistication and US underground purism, a place where European and American cool effortlessly merge. And like the world around them, they cross these cultural barriers with ease whilst emanating a paranoid edginess that something, somewhere, is not quite right and yet they can't pin it down.
Produced by Steve Albini - itself as strong an indication of the record's global appeal as anything - CAGO is a stunning record that arrives on the back of a reputation 'cult'-ivated in Belgium since the mid 1990s. It's a significant progression from previous work, which undeniably troubled few anywhere outside their homeland to date. But CAGO is different. It's intricate, complex and far from immediate, and yet capable of intoxicating you slowly and immeasurably over a period of time so that its melodic twists and literary tics are buried deep in the very fibres of your soul. It's that good. If you give it a little time. Same way as most of the best records are. Before you know it, you're waking up in the middle of the night with these songs still drifting across your mind.
Much of the record's uniquely addictive quality comes from the combination of musical backgrounds that makes up the band, and the unusual arrangements they adopt. At the heart of this lie a number of key factors: the lack of a bassist, the intricate interplay between the three guitars, and Daan Stuyven's impressionistic lyrics that embrace sound far above meaning (again reflecting these multicultural times by communicating on a more subconscious level). Daan, who also plays guitar, had success in the early 90s with his previous band Volt, but disappeared to design record covers until the late 90s when he formed DEAD MAN RAY with Rudy Trouvé, a founder member of the tragically underrated dEUS who is now largely responsible for the abstract soundscapes that provide the backdrop for much of CAGO. Elko Blijweert provides a more classically trained, jazz influenced flavour, while Wouter Van Belle, on keyboards, comes from a production background and was also responsible for the mixing of the album. The quintet are made up by Karel De Backer, another jazz-influenced musician who recently replaced the band's first drummer. Songs emerge from extended jams, all recorded to two track where they are pulled apart and then stitched back together on computer, principally by Daan.
The band say that they "write and hide popsongs". Certainly they are musically and lyrically cryptic. But they are far from unapproachable, far from impenetrable. DEAD MAN RAY simply realise that if you work a little harder for something, you will find greater, longer lasting value in it. And CAGO is full of hard earned payback for both the band and all those prepared to invest a little time.
CAGO is a thoroughly bewitching record, recorded live in Albini's trademark metallic, no frills fashion. Suffused with a genuine sense of drama and dynamics right from the start, it's passionate and yet intangible, tense but sexy, lithe and restless. Like the classic Chicago winter in which it was recorded, it's cold outside but warm within. And it's capable of stopping you in your tracks when you least expect it: the heartstopping acceleration in opening track (and first single) Landslide, the sudden appearance of the veteran beatnik legend Ken Nordine in the hypnotic and mysterious Blue Volkswagen 10am, the literary juxtapositions that are suddenly thrown up, ("…short term investments, low cut love" being just one such gem), the shuddering impact of the guitars as they kick in half way through Losing The Lost. It's a record that could have come from anywhere, comes at you out of nowhere and takes you somewhere unforgettable. Absolutely perfect for these times.