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Monday, Dec. 15, 2008

Marc Ribot's Ceramic Dog

Party Intellectuals (Pi)

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Hats off to Marc Ribot for releasing perhaps the two most disparate back-to-back albums in history. February gave us Exercises in Futility, a solo, new age/classical, acoustic pluck-work with noodling of the likes to make Leo Kottke blush. Now the guitarist returns with Party Intellectuals, an offering from his self-proclaimed "first rock band since high school."

In what sounds like a name borrowed from Ribot's days with Tom Waits, the Ceramic Dog band punches through muddled, often ugly, never predictable vamps of punk-meets-indie electronica.

Most of Party Intellectuals feels like late-'80s Peter Gabriel gone to meth, both deconstructing and reconstructing song sketches while digesting entirely too much LCD Soundsystem. But what sounds like a hoot on paper can turn into a drag of druggy haughtiness, experimental overkill and too many disconnected musical synapses for comfort.

Sure there's heart ("For Malena"), clever faux-hipster posturing ("When We Were Young"), Talking Heads-style tongue-in-cheek condemnation ("Girlfriend") and guitar virtuosity to go around ("Pinch"). But when it all boils down to the 10-minute masturbatory rock-out of "Midost," in which Ribot attempts to answer the question of whether headbangers can coexist with jam bands, every listener is likely to feel like the last one at the party.

Ribot's game has always been avant-garde with a sense of humor, but this time pretension crosses into a moody uptown neighborhood of Arthouse. And while it's a showing of commendable fearlessness and bold experimentation, as a whole the album feels like a wayward bout of messiness from a normally brilliant guitarist.