One of the very first things I ever did online was to try and find out information about a favorite band of mine. My Internet habits have changed only slightly in the ensuing decade or so. The vast amount of time that I spend online is still spent tracking down information on countless artists, downloading music, seeking out release dates, and so on — all in service of this compelling (and sometimes neurotic) need to discover and digest as much music as possible, and as quickly as possible.
I suspect I’m not alone, as the rise of such online services as Last.fm and Pandora, the explosion of MP3 blogs, and of course, the specter of file-sharing attests to. Never before has so much musical information been available to so many users, and all of it at the click of a mouse.
But sometimes I wonder at what cost. On the one hand, it’s fantastic to be able to track down every bit of information about whatever band you’re currently obsessing over, to find where you can obtain (legally, of course) that obscure EP they recorded for some no-name label in 1983, to learn about their side-projects, influences, and adherents, and so on. On the other hand, it does rob the whole affair of a certain measure of mystique.
Thanks to a socially-networked, heavily-democraticized, blogged-to-death World Wide Web, bands can no longer easily remain the mysterious, aloof entities they once could have been, had they so chosen. We don’t have to wonder about what this song means or that lyric implies, why they chose this arrangement over that one, because thousands of bloggers have already done the thinking for us (or have dug up all of the info for us). We don’t have to wonder what the band believes, what they’re aspiring for, or what messages they’re trying to convey. We don’t have to dig through their sounds, lyrics, liner notes, and sleeve artwork to decipher their message and their art.
It’s all become desacralized and demystified, and while the breadth of information is great to have — if anything, it makes obtaining the music a lot easier — I sometimes find myself missing the mystery, whimsy, confusion, and otherness that I believe is intrinsic to music’s being of any worth, and which often seems in short supply in these cynical, commoditized times.
“Mystery,” “whimsy,” “confusion,” and “otherness” are all words that could easily be applied to the strangely-named Revolutionary Army of the Infant Jesus (indeed, if the name alone made you roll your eyes, you may just want stop here).
In this day and age of music data overload, with the rise of MP3 blogs and music recommendation sites, the Revolutionary Army of the Infant Jesus have remained almost completely off the grid. Try to Google them, and you’ll get plenty of links, but aside from a handful of reviews and concert coverage, most of them point to musical directories, random blog posts, and articles about Bunuel’s That Obscure Object of Desire (the film from which the band presumably gets their name).
In other words, there’s precious little concrete information about the band itself — who they are, where they came from, what they’re doing now, etc. I haven’t even been able to find any names for any of the band members. But here’s what little I (or anyone for that matter) do know.
The Liverpool-based Revolutionary Army of the Infant Jesus is often lumped in with the rest of the “apocalyptic/experimental folk” genre, alongside groups such as Current 93, Death In June, Sol Invictus, and The Moon Lay Hidden Beneath A Cloud. Like those artists, Revolutionary Army of the Infant Jesus’s music is a blend of folksy, acoustic instrumentation, cryptic lyrics full of sacred/apocalyptic imagery, and trance-like vocals that seem more like invocation. However, the band also incorporates ambient and industrial sounds à la Les Joyaux de la Princesse, as well as plenty of samples from European films (Andrei Tarkovsky and Jean Cocteau seem to be as big an influence as anything), old Russian speeches, and tattered radio broadcasts.
The dearth of information does make it difficult to find out just what, exactly, the band is trying to get at sometimes. Many of the song titles, as well as the lyrics, are derived from Biblical sources, and are laden with Christian imagery of an Orthodox bent (“Come Holy Spirit,” “Transfiguration,” “Joy Of The Cross,” “Man Of Sorrows”).
But then there’s an odd bit of pagan poetry (“Hymn To Dionysius”) and European rumination (“Tales From Europe”), which leaves you scratching your head somewhat. Maybe they’re not so devout or orthodox, maybe it’s merely metaphorical, maybe the two university professors in the band (the one bit of bio info I could find) sought to stretch their literary muscles, or maybe they just thought these were fun songs to play. We’re forced to do it on our own, and as such, I doubt there will ever be any truly conclusive answers until the band speaks out — which, given their total disappearance, seems unlikely.
The Revolutionary Army of the Infant Jesus only put out a handful of material, and almost all of it on the German label Apocalyptic Vision (which also seems to have disappeared into the ether). Three of these releases (1988’s The Gift Of Tears, 1991’s Mirror, and 1993’s La Liturgie Pour Le Fin Du Temps) were released as a double CD in 1994. Their final release, the Paradis EP, was released in 1996. That was ten years ago, and nary a peep has come from the band’s camp, if indeed it even exists today.
Good art should be able to stand on its own, apart from its creator. Unfortunately, due to the abundance of information at our fingertips, that possibility isn’t often allowed for these days. We know everything there is to know about the artist, and therefore, we know why they made this piece, what inspired them, how they interpret this or that, and so on. But all art is, in some part, mystery; even artists, if they’re honest, don’t always know why a piece turns out the way that it did. And sometimes, digging too deep and knowing too much serves only to cheapen and diminish the work.
As much as I’d love to stumble across an interview or explanation, or some random bit of news, part of me is glad that the Revolutionary Army of the Infant Jesus seems to have taken their secrets with them, and that no amount of blogging or Googling can dig them up. A sense of mystery seems only appropriate for this music, this haunting blend of ethereal vocals, Jean Cocteau samples, medieval instrumentation, Russian poetry, ambient drones, and holy texts that oftentimes seems akin to sacred, otherworldly ritual. In this day of desacralized media, the continued enigma of The Revolutionary Army of the Infant Jesus is something of a relief.
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I've also written for Christ and Pop Culture, ScreenAnarchy, Filmwell, and Christian Research Journal. I pay the bills by creating beautiful user interfaces and websites for Firespring and Red Bicycle.