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Hector Zazou and Sandy Dillon

The collaboration between French composer/producer Hector Zazou and American vocalist Sandy Dillon is dilletantish musical experimentalism best described as "difficult." Zazou (who has worked with Björk, John Cale, and Dead Can Dance) and Dillon, an avant-pop chanteuse, have teamed up to create a piece that's challenging in the extreme but strangely satisfying for the patient and tolerant listener.

Zazou and Dillon bow in the direction of Captain Beefheart as inspiration for 12 (Las Vegas Is Cursed) and even proffer a decidedly unique cover of "Her Eyes Are a Blue Million Miles" as evidence. But even as odd and deliberately atonal as the Cap'n could get, Zazou and Dillon never approach their own work from the skronk-blues perspective that informed nearly everything Beefheartian. In fact, Zazou and Dillon have created a piece that leans more heavily on the compositional style of Frank Zappa at his most iconoclastic, balancing sonic textures and flashes of traditional rock clichés on an apex of total musical chaos. Zazou's clashing and constructed soundscapes, which feature everything from conventional musicians (Marc Ribot, Lisa Germano, Pat Mastelotto) and their contributions to ambient sounds like video games and environmental samples, are the perfect foundation for Dillon's raspy and otherworldly vocal acrobatics. While Zazou conducts his orchestra of the bizarre, Dillon creates the perfect voice to accompany the movieless soundtrack, a Dada mind-meld of Laurie Anderson's twisted pop sensibilities and Marianne Faithfull's weary cigarettes-and-whiskey damaged persona.

The fascinating aspect of 12 is the fact that Zazou and Dillon collaborated on the album by phone, having never met until after the project was completed. In less artful hands, that kind of distance could have resulted in a cold and impersonal work, but instead 12 (Las Vegas Is Cursed) drips with avant-garde passion and ambient jazz strangeitude.

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Brian Baker

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