Lush, Passionate, Melancholic, Opiated, Aflame

Music like this doesn't get much attention because it doesn't position itself within the proper hip-hoppity alterna-ironic grooves.

So far, the end of the millennium seems a bit of an artistic bust. Where are the feelings of sweet ennui, the opium-drenched dreams, the squandered feelings of lust and desperation that informed the writers of the previous fin de siècle, including Oscar Wilde, Ernest Dowson and Francis Thompson?

In the twentieth century, as rock musicians have by and large taken over from the poets and novelists the task of defining ourselves and our times, we've had our share of artfully decadent types — your David Bowies, your Lou Reeds, your Iggy Pops — but they are mostly in semiretirement now, and their most worthy aesthetic offspring — Marc Almond comes to mind — have a hard time getting record deals.

Well, I don't know about you, but Barenaked Ladies are not exactly my

idea of a band by which to solemnly contemplate another 1000 years of

"progress."

And that's where Sam Rosenthal and his Black Tape for a Blue Girl

project come in. Now, I realize that part of the reason music like

Rosenthal's, as heard on his latest disc, As One Aflame Laid Bare

by Desire, doesn't get much attention from hip rockzines is that

it doesn't position itself within the proper hip-hoppity alterna-ironic

grooves that have taken over the media version of rock these days

(beware, middle-class rock crits: metal is outselling many of your

heroes these days).

This is mainly because the artist — who's been at this since

1986 — dares to take himself seriously in a Seinfeldian age

where nothing's serious. The disc's liner notes even include

academic-styled endnotes citing Baudelaire, Marcel Duchamp and Leopold

Von Sacher-Masoch (that's right, the granddaddy of S&M, baby). All

very cool millenarian influences, if you ask me.

And that's not to mention the elaborate CD sleeve, where BTFABG's

flautist Lisa Feuer plays Georgia O' Keeffe to Rosenthal's Alfred

Stieglitz, the man photographically documenting his lover

(who looks like a cross between a young Djuna Barnes and a

young O'Keeffe), in various states of undress, all tastefully done

and a thousand times more erotic than all the Net porn you could find.

After all, the best art is sexually charged, and don't let any stodgy

ol' English prof ever tell ya different.

Ahhhh, but the music, you ask? If you're going to quote Baudelaire,

you'd better deliver the artistic goods, and BTFABG do so.

As One Aflame is lush, passionate, melancholic, opiated stuff,

featuring soaring, near-operatic vocals from collaborators

Julianna Towns and Oscar Herrera on the title track (RealAudio excerpt) and the

kinky "Tell Me You've Taken Another" (RealAudio excerpt).

The music's genealogy seems to include the ambient work of David Bowie and Brian Eno, and especially the early 4AD sound (think This Mortal Coil). Rosenthal creates a sort of electronic chamber music that envelops his singers like a cloud of incense.

Appropriately, given the cover art, Rosenthal's lyrics include the Nietzschean themes of the Apollonian and Dionysian drives — of control and the abandonment of control: those moments where one falls into — or out of — love, and all the old rules are momentarily broken, revealing the glimmer of a new world lying beyond the mundane.

On "Russia" (RealAudio excerpt), he pleads (through the voice of Herrera, sounding here a bit like a subdued Dave Gahan of Depeche Mode): "You draw me from my present state/ The candles die, the room swirls/ ... We pull so tight, needing to fulfill every dream/ To replace every nightmare, to erase every tear/ When I find you will I understand?/ When I find you, will all this drift away?/ ... Will I be who I wish to be?"

The Dionysian need for chaotic transformation lies at the heart of this millennially tuned artist: will the Y2K bug really destroy the Western world? Imagine, just for a moment, that it will, then imagine a new society emerging from the ruins of the old. Or imagine, on a microcosmic scale, your own world imploding, perhaps an unexpected love who carries you beyond the parameters of what now you call your life to a new and foreign frontier.

Fear? Sure, but also limitless possibility. It is for the contemplation of such possibilities that this album was made: It's music made for dreaming while you're wide awake.

With As One Aflame Laid Bare by Desire Black Tape for a Blue Girl have created an erotic classic for the millennium, perfect New Year's music for those who still worship at the temple of Art, not Mammon. Baudelaire woulda loved it.