True False by Negativland

reviewed by Robin Gruer

When you think of experimental music, what is the first thing that comes to mind? Maybe, for some, it’s overlapping melodies, and, for others, it’s using objects as instruments and playing with pitch. As for me, I wasn’t sure what to think of experimental music because I had actually never listened to it. That is, until, I was given the opportunity to explore the inner workings of True False by Negativland.

Negativland has been building their reputation over the past forty years as an experimental and sound collage music group from the San Francisco Bay Area. With their 2019 album release, True False, they push the boundaries as each song speaks a questionable truth about situations people deal with every day. While the reality of these instances is relatable to the listener may be questionable, it doesn’t quite matter because each song is capable of transcending those who dare to be taken. It shows them the truth, what’s real and out there.

If I were asked to give a quick summary of this album, I would say it is an art installation, representing life, questioning society, and bringing awareness to the reality of this world; it is a psychedelic trip for the sober. For the majority of the tracks, there aren’t singing vocals, but instead it’s as if the listener is having a conversation. Along with that, Negativland plays a lot with vocal pitch, bringing together several different artists to contribute. There is repetition in the lyrics, giving a very awareful concept to each piece with fun noises and light beats completing each track. By doing this, the band has not only encouraged the listeners to actually listen but also to feel comfortable in doing so. It is an intimidating album for the content, yet nonetheless approachable.

After listening to the album in its entirety, I was inspired to share it with my peers and see how they viewed such a different take on musical creativity. Following this action, I was delighted to see that everyone interpreted it differently and was left in their own type of awe. I found the most common reaction to be overwhelmed and self-questioning, which I believe is fair.

Nevertheless, this just goes to show that the album is doing a great job at making people think, which, overall, is how I interpret the main purpose of experimental music to be. Coming from someone who hasn’t had experience with experimental music, it is easy to shrug it off at first and be over-judgmental of the non-contemporary style of it all. Yet Negativland has done an incredible thing with True False as it made “different” truly enjoyable.

I’d like to give my congratulations to this band and album as they’ve gained a new and appreciative fan who is looking forward to more of what the world of experimental has to offer.