Okkervil River, Porgy & Bess, Vienna, 22 November 2008

Okkervil River’s concert at Porgy & Bess on Saturday night is a very strong contender for my show of the year. With just a few weeks to go before 2008 wraps up, its pole position is unlikely to be overtaken. This was a night of sheer blinding inspiration, with song after song ramming home extraordinary amounts of rhythmic flair and melodic inventiveness. In Will Sheff the group has a frontman like none I have ever seen: searingly honest, passionate and quite transported in his breathtaking urge to communicate through live performance.

The epic “A Girl In Port,” from Okkervil’s 2007 album The Stage Names, is probably the best song I’ve heard all year, and repeated listens have convinced me of its greatness. So when the group launched into it as the very first song of this concert, I knew at once that it was going to be a highly memorable evening. And so it proved, as the concert unfolded into a shatteringly effective piece of communal music theatre. Whether welded to his acoustic guitar, clinging to the microphone stand, leaning precipitously over the stage or sharing a moment of closeness with the immaculate band behind him, Sheff does nothing less than redefine the limits of what it is possible for a musician to do onstage. His smile is winning, his voice emotive, his communion with the audience uniquely close and thrilling. After “A Girl In Port,” the other song that has had a deep impact on me this year is “Black,” from 2005’s Black Sheep Boy. I was praying they would play it, but dared not hope; when they launched into this surging rollercoaster of a song, I felt… well, there are really no words.

With their cover version of Leonard Cohen’s “Take This Waltz,” chosen and rehearsed (so Sheff told us) specifically for this concert, Okkervil River displayed a sense of place and a generosity of spirit that contrasted markedly with Cohen’s own performance of the same song here in Vienna a few months ago. Sheff said the group always enjoy playing here because of the response they receive from the audiences. Maybe he says that every night, although somehow I doubt it. In any event, for them to play that song here felt like a precious gift from the group to the audience. The old groaner, on the other hand, made no specific introduction to the song when he played it in Vienna, as if refusing to acknowledge that there was something beautiful and special about hearing the song played by its author in the magnificent surroundings of the Konzerthaus. This dogged refusal to deviate one iota from his prepared script on those two evenings was profoundly depressing.

And I’m really not in the habit of doing this kind of thing, but on Saturday I couldn’t resist: I reached out and shook Sheff’s hand as he left the stage, then stretched over and retrieved not one but two of his discarded guitar picks (Jim Dunlop 0.6mm, if you’re interested). Whether they’ll enable any of the magic of this concert to transfer to my own hopeless attempts to play the guitar remains to be seen. In any event, this was an evening of transformative joy and elation such as I have rarely if ever experienced in a concert hall.

Photos by David Murobi here.

Michael Gira, Porgy & Bess, Vienna, 21 November 2008

There seems to be an occasional series of concert reviews on this blog — see Leonard Cohen, Whitehouse and Einstürzende Neubauten — that mostly consist of Epiphanies-style reminiscences of my first awareness of the artist in question. This, though, is the one I’ve been waiting to write — how I fell in love with Swans, the most important group of my life.

I recall the time very well. I was at Sussex University in 1987, casting around for new music to love. I had outgrown the obsessions with Gary Numan and Pink Floyd that marked my teenage years, had taken quite happily to the subdued acoustic muse of Leonard Cohen and Suzanne Vega, but was undoubtedly in need of something more acute. Every week I would scour the pages of the NME — still then my main source of music news, although not for much longer — in search of wisdom and enlightenment. One week I read a review of Swans’ Children of God that was to change my life, although I didn’t know it at the time. I can’t remember who penned it, but this is how it concluded: “And it’s ugly, and it’s difficult, and it’s long and sometimes wearying, and peculiarly beautiful, and utterly essential.” Well, that was it for me. I had never heard a note of this music, had no great history of liking this kind of thing, but when I saw that Swans (not The Swans, as I quickly learned) were playing in Brighton soon, I bought a ticket straight away. I got the album the day after the concert, and I was hooked for life.

Over the next few years, I saw Swans live a few more times (at the Zap Club on the seafront, and in London at the Town & Country Club and the now defunct Kilburn National Ballroom), and bought each new record as it came out, enthralled by the beauty and power inherent in this music. The real turning point, however, came when I wrote a fan letter to the address printed on the cover of 1991’s White Light From The Mouth of Infinity. I expected to hear back, if at all, from some kind of management flunkey; what I certainly didn’t expect was to receive a long and detailed reply from singer and keyboard player Jarboe herself. This kindness and generosity continued over many years in her correspondence with me; in those pre-email days it was a genuine thrill when a letter postmarked Atlanta dropped through my letterbox.

The apex of my association with Swans came in 1997 when Michael Gira asked me to be the merchandise seller on their farewell tour of Europe. As one might imagine, this was an offer I mulled over for perhaps 1.5 seconds before accepting. It was the experience of a lifetime, with 30-odd concerts over six weeks in such widespread countries as France, Germany, Switzerland, Austria (yes, the Szene Wien), Norway, Sweden, Denmark, the Czech Republic, Italy, Belgium, the Netherlands and Slovenia, with the last ever Swans concert taking place in my then home town of London on 15 March 1997, in the rather dingy surroundings of the now defunct LA2. Out there somewhere, there’s a recording of that night in which Gira makes a between-songs announcement thanking me for my work on the tour. I don’t have a copy myself, so please get in touch if you do. Rather mind-bogglingly, those words were the last he ever spoke (as opposed to sang) from the stage as a member of Swans.

I have a tour-bus load of memories of those six weeks, the good, the bad and the ugly, but if it’s all the same to you I’m going to keep them to myself (with the exception of this rather facetious letter which I wrote to The Wire last year). I will say that it was by some measure the hardest work I’ve ever done; this was not a matter of a few T-shirts. There were shirts, books, CDs, records, tapes, badges, stickers and wooden boxes, all of which had to be loaded in and out, sold and accounted for in any number of currencies (no euros then!). I’m well aware, though, that I was slumming it compared to the Herculean nightly efforts of the band and the rest of the road crew. And if anyone reading this bought anything from the merch table on Swans’ last European tour, I hope you were happy with what you bought.

Fast forward eleven years and I’m at Porgy & Bess for a solo concert by Michael Gira. This form represents a distillation and finessing of everything I ever loved about Swans: the brimming rage, the barely controlled power and the passionate intensity. The lyrics, as ever, are extraordinary: visionary, convulsive flashes of elemental forces, drenched in deep colours hewn from the strings and wood of Gira’s guitar. And when he plays my favourite Swans song, the overwhelmingly bleak and nihilistic “God Damn The Sun,” as the encore, I think… well, at the very least, I’m in the right place tonight.

Nurse With Wound: Shipwreck Radio Vols. 1 & 2, Soundpooling

As Nurse With Wound approach their 30th year of activity, their public profile is higher than ever. A slew of new releases and reissues, a series of well received live performances and a collaboration with Faust have all served to raise awareness of Steven Stapleton’s formidably strange life’s work, once shrouded in mystery and anonymity. The famously eremitic Stapleton, who lives with his family in a remote farmhouse in Ireland, has even dipped his toe into the fetid waters of internet commerce, selling limited edition prints through his official Website.

Time was when Nurse With Wound consisted of Steven Stapleton plus whoever he chose to gather around him to help realise his surreal musical imaginings. In recent years, though, and coinciding with their emergence blinking into the realm of live performance, NWW have begun to take on the properties of a group. Long-time Stapleton collaborator Colin Potter, who releases NWW’s albums on his ICR label, is the other core member, augmented for live work by Andrew Liles, Matt Waldron and David Tibet of Current 93, whose musical journey is in many respects inseparable from Stapleton’s.

Throughout this period of increased activity, however, the music of Nurse With Wound has retained an enviable air of self-effacement and mystique. This aura of detachment stems from a willed refusal on the part of the music’s authors to allow their individuality to be imprinted upon it. It’s music that rigorously avoids the facile imparting of meaning through personality and association. Instead it communicates with the listener through a system of atavistic codes and signifiers, leaving a disquieting impression of dislocation and wrongness.

The two double albums comprising volumes 1 and 2 of Shipwreck Radio (a third volume was not received for review) are prime examples of this scrupulous working through of the alien and strange. Casting themselves in the role of sonic explorers, Stapleton and Potter ventured north to the Lofoten Islands in the Norwegian Arctic, winding up in the small village of Svolvaer, where they remained for two months. During that time they made regular broadcasts on local radio, some of which now form the music on these albums. Clocking in (with one double-length exception) at 15 minutes each, the predominant mode of these tracks is Isolationist soundscaping, with multilayered drones and frequencies piling up and shifting restlessly around each other. This being Nurse With Wound, however, there’s far more going on here than just ambient hum and flutter. Central to the concept of the piece was that Potter and Stapleton had to take all the sounds they used from objects and environments they found in and around Lofoten. The resulting source material is presented in various ways, from untreated field recordings to heavily processed interventions.

Volume 1 opens with a dose of just such heaviosity, “June 15”, as a tumbling rock riff locks itself inside your skull and refuses to leave. Distorted, looped and heavily percussive, this juggernaut opening is a fearsome statement of intent. When the onslaught subsides, some local colour is added in the form of cut up and looped spoken voices. These are familiar Stapleton tropes, and they act rather as filler here. It’s a relief when “June 17” arrives, a beautifully paced 30-minute chorale of birdsong, rainfall, running water and distant voices. Slowly, imperceptibly, electronic treatments are added to these atmospheric sounds, infecting them with strangeness. Finally, we hear the sounds of local festivities, including a brass band, mangled and pitch-shifted to the point of unrecognisability.

The remaining pieces on both volumes amplify and extend the sense of inhospitability that permeates the project. Stapleton and Potter turn for inspiration away from the village and its people, and towards the harshness of the sea that surrounds them. The sound sources move outwards and downwards, becoming deep, murky and clanky and recalling NWW’s earlier Salt Marie Celeste, a particularly sinister evocation of oceanic dread. On the closing piece of volume 1, “June 20”, a thick musical fog descends slowly around a succession of indistinct rattles and thuds.

Volume 2 is more varied musically, with “June 19” being especially enjoyable. Until the appearance of the long-promised NWW hip-hop album, this may be the most danceable thing Stapleton has ever done. Although it wasn’t the last to be broadcast, its placing at the end of volume 2 makes perfect sense, with its insistent percussive throb and its movement away from the hardships conjured earlier and towards some kind of resolution and farewell.

In a further indication of NWW’s reconstitution as a group, they have also dropped that most rockist of manoeuvres, the live album. Soundpooling is rather special, however – a document of the first NWW concerts in 21 years, which took place in 2005. Conceived and organised by Walter Robotka of Vienna electronic label Klanggalerie, the three gigs were held at the Narrenturm pathological museum in Vienna and were not actually billed as NWW concerts (advance publicity just listed the names of the group members). Wearing white lab coats in keeping with the medical setting, the group performed improvisations on the aforementioned Salt Marie Celeste, of which the recording here is the third. Another NWW piece, Echo Poème, is also blended into the mix, resulting in an hour-long, distinctly filmic narrative of disorientation. The looming drones and watery creaks that made the original Salt Marie Celeste a work of such ominous foreboding recur in abundance here, along with enough disembodied cries, moans and cackles to soundtrack any number of nightmares. A bonus studio track, “In Swollen Silence”, rounds things off in grandstanding style with calm instrumental textures and a brief, surreal song, punctuated by crazed vocal and electronic interjections. In the world of Nurse With Wound, something nasty is never far away.

(Originally published in The Sound Projector 16, 2008)

Tanakh: Ardent Fevers

This fourth Tanakh album is, like its predecessors, largely the work of Jesse Poe. More song-oriented than previous efforts, it nods in the direction of various past luminaries while confidently asserting its own identity thanks to Poe’s particular brand of sensitive, literate songwriting.

Poe is very much the guiding light, singing lead vocals, writing all the lyrics and much of the music, and playing lead electric and acoustic guitar to boot. He’s joined by a large cast of musicians including ex-Belle & Sebastian waif Isobel Campbell on cello and avant drummer Alex Neilson, sounding noticeably more fluid and restrained than on his recent outings with Jandek. The prevailing mood is decidedly mellow and unhurried, with songs like “Deeper” offering cool, jazzy sax and organ flourishes among the conventional alt-rock stylings.

The crepuscular “5 am” sees Tanakh neatly evoking the spirit of Nick Drake with gorgeous acoustic guitar work and rapturous flashes of cornet. Singing in a dark half-whisper, Poe avoids triteness and affectingly romanticises the night-time moment: “I roll over and find you there, so still in your beauty, with your lovely red hair…” On “Like I Used To”, dry-as-dust lap steel guitar (courtesy of Phil Murphy) merges beautifully with Poe’s cyclical riffing to create a warped alt-country mood, while “Restless Hands” settles effortlessly into a lithe folk-pop groove.

As a collection of such languorous moments, Ardent Fevers is well nigh perfect; it has further treasures to yield, however, igniting spectacularly on the lengthy “Still Trying To Find You Home” and “Take & Read.” Both these tracks begin slowly and quietly, with Poe alighting on a solemn Leonard Cohen acoustic plane before opening up into huge juggernauts of Neil Young-style electric riffing. As audacious as they are unexpected, they transform Ardent Fevers from a good album into very nearly a great one.

(Originally published in The Sound Projector 16, 2008)

Michael Gira: Songs for a Dog

An odd release, this – a mish-mash of previously released and unreleased material, it nevertheless provide a useful introduction to one side of Michael Gira’s post-Swans work.

Half of the ten songs are taken from I Am Singing to You From My Room, a solo CD originally released in a limited edition of 1000 through Gira’s website (a second edition is now available). Of the rest, two reappear from What We Did, Gira’s collaborative CD with Dan Matz of Windsor for the Derby, while one is an outtake from the sessions that produced New Mother, the first album by Gira’s principal post-Swans project, Angels of Light. Finally, there’s a solo version of one of Swans’ most harrowing songs, “God Damn The Sun”, and one completely new song, “Promise of Water”.

These songs represent Gira’s muse at its most stripped down and intimate, reflecting his urge to communicate through the simplest and purest of means. For the most part, they are shorn of the baroque intensity that characterises Gira’s work as Angels of Light. Although they consist of just a voice and an acoustic guitar, these are not folk songs. Wrought from dark, atavistic impulses, they proceed in a manner more akin to a sermon. Gira’s authoritative baritone moves effortlessly between the gentle, the reproachful and the accusatory, inhabiting the songs utterly and turning them into vehicles for spontaneous, unmediated expression. The lyrics are rapturous explosions of hallucinatory imagery, saturated in colours and sensations, while the guitar playing is a sinister, vertiginous thrumming. This is a truly potent mix; Gira’s take on songform is dazzling and unique.

(Originally published in The Sound Projector 16, 2008)

Maurizio Bianchi: Elisionem

Maurizio Bianchi is an Italian noise musician who is perhaps best known for his early association with Whitehouse and their Come Org label. In 1981, Bianchi gave copies of his early noise recordings to Whitehouse’s William Bennett, who re-edited them without Bianchi’s approval and released two albums’ worth of material under the name Leibstandarte SS MB. Bianchi himself does not count these albums as part of his oeuvre, even though they are undoubtedly responsible in part for such public profile as he currently has.

He released at least ten further albums in the early 80s, before getting religion and retiring from music. Reactivating his career in 1998, he has been making up for lost time with an avalanche of recordings on a bewildering variety of labels, including this one on Klanggalerie, the leading Austrian label for avant-garde electronic and noise music.

The album’s presentation has a distinctly scientific bearing; track titles include “Proteic Suppression”, “Glutenous Dispositive” and “Histological Amalgam”, while the sleeve notes – possibly with tongue in cheek – attempt to elucidate the album’s title with a screed that begins “The ‘elisionem’, in the avant-gardist branch, is a sound absorbent course used to amalgamate various sonorous elements into one.” Feeling none the wiser, one proceeds to listen to the record.

Wholly electronic in origin, the music on this collection of drone- and loop-based pieces is dramatic and forbidding. The hypnotic, serpentine repetitions of “Proteic Suppression” are reminiscent of Zoviet France, while “Syllabic Microbes” is quieter and more mysterious, until a series of harsh metallic stabs upsets the track’s equilibrium. At 24 minutes, “Elliptic Iontophoresis” is the longest and most effective piece on the album. Microscopically detailed in texture, its soundworld begins with high and low end drones that give way to grating clashes, stricken movements and a gradual ratcheting up of tension. Finally, the drama retreats into a sense of relative calm, with swirling astral patterns and periodic bursts of activity. Whatever its scientific basis, this is a very fine album of dark ambient atmospherics.

(Originally published in The Sound Projector 16, 2008)

Graf & Zyx: Trust No Woman Plus

Along strikingly similar lines to Cultural Amnesia’s Enormous Savages, here’s a reissue of another lost artefact of electronic pop. This time the Klanggalerie label has disinterred the very rare 1981 album Trust No Woman by the Austrian duo of Inge Graf and Walter Zyx, adding a slew of bonus tracks ranging from 1977 to 1986 for good measure.

The record is remarkably ahead of its time, and one wonders how it is that Graf & Zyx have until now been so under-reported – and, indeed, under-appreciated – in the history of synthesised pop music. It’s quite staggering, in fact, to listen to a track like “Sorrow and Sadness”, with its clipped, multi-tracked vocals, spacey synths and restrained percussion, and to learn that it dates from as far back as 1977. Those first Graf & Zyx songs – “I Look Out” and “Get Away Dark Side” also date from this period – have a rough, weathered feel that points to Cabaret Voltaire as being the duo’s closest peers at that stage.

Throughout the early ’80s, Graf & Zyx deepened and refined their approach and produced Trust No Woman, the album that forms the core of the present reissue. Building on the early work of Gary Numan – who, for all the critical opprobrium piled upon him, was a crucially important figure in the development of electronic pop – and the original Human League, Graf & Zyx designed their short, immediate songs around a barrage of analogue synths, rock-solid electro beats and controlled, low-key vox. From 1982, “I Use You” (the title sounds like something an early computer might have come out with) is simple, undulant and strangely moving, infused with the spirit of hopeful discovery that accompanied the introduction of affordable home computers and synthesisers at that time: “Empty room in my mind/they are talking from behind/but I use you/when I look away…” Graf & Zyx may not be as revered or, indeed, as important as Kraftwerk; yet their work shares the technological melancholy that suffuses through the music of the men from Düsseldorf.

With a total of 24 tracks on the album, there was always going to be the occasional clunker, and certainly Graf & Zyx were not always as sharp as they might have been. The cringemaking “Love Your Dog” is a very silly, faux-operatic piece of doggy do-do, while “Ciao Lucia” plods along for five interminable minutes without ever raising a flicker of interest. These lapses, though, are thankfully rare. And the album ends on a perfect flourish with a key track, “When Darkness Comes” – not only the last and longest song on the record, but the only one whose lyric is printed on the insert. Its extended instrumental outro is a bubbling, perfectly paced synth workout; bright, lively and profoundly tuneful, it revels, like the album as a whole, in its own formal boldness and innovation.

(Originally published in The Sound Projector 16, 2008)

George: A Week of Kindness

A week of kindness is the very least you should extend to anyone who introduces you to this little gem. The duo of Michael Varty and Suzy Mangian have produced an inspired fusion of icy slowcore, lo-fi instrumental textures and ethereal electronic atmospheres. At times calling to mind the achingly sad quietude of Low, at others the aerated starkness of Julee Cruise, the album progresses through its fifteen tracks like a slowly unfolding musical drama.

The purity of Mangian’s voice is heard to sumptuous effect on “The Living Sound,” hovering over simple piano and percussion. Varty and Mangian sing together on “Now You Want To Settle Down,” their voices floating in feathery harmony as they anatomise chilly, wounded emotion: “Whisper to me words of happiness, too far-fetched at best, go home to him.” In between, the instrumental “Week of Wonders” draws faint lines of recorder and flute against an ominous crescendo of liquid electronic noise.

Exhibiting flashes of wry humour on “Spend My Time” (“I’ve no time for drinking, because I spend all my time with you”), and the occasional moment of Kate Bush-style eccentricity, George ultimately keep returning to a position of rigorous calm and caution. Instrumentation is spare and intensely evocative: dustbowl banjo on “Song of Degrees,” drifty organ on “Fabula” and a touch of accordion on “Joy Could Be Here” that somehow conjures up a vision of blasted Englishness. Musing that “words have a way of resounding off surfaces,” the song acknowledges the existence of joy while simultaneously appearing unable to believe in it. It’s this tentativeness, this sense of quiet exploration at its own careful pace, that makes A Week of Kindness such an uncompromisingly fine record.

(Originally published in The Sound Projector 16, 2008)

Dredd Foole: Daze on the Mounts

Dredd Foole is a kind of godfather to the free folk scene. Born Dan Ireton, the 57-year-old American has been an itinerant musical presence in the north-eastern USA for over 20 years. Having released two albums in the 1980s under the name Dredd Foole and the Din, and played with Boston art-punks Mission of Burma, Ireton disappeared from view in the 90s but was re-energised by the emergence of the free folk weirdos in the early 2000s.

He performed at the event that kick-started the whole shebang, the 2003 Brattleboro Free Folk Festival, and first issued Daze on the Mounts in 2004 as a limited edition CD-R. Family Vineyard have now given the record a wider release, which is admirable; much of its attraction, however, lies not with Foole but with his co-performers Matt Valentine and Erika Elder, whose instrumental contributions are significant throughout.

Under the undeniably appropriate MV & EE banner, Valentine and Elder have made a name for themselves with their lysergic, folk-tinged psychedelia. On this record, they provide inspired instrumental backing that revitalises Foole’s occasionally humdrum songs. Foole’s approach to singing is somewhat reminiscent of Tim Buckley in its yearning for visionary clarity, yet Foole lacks Buckley’s mystical intensity and too often sounds merely confused. “Signed DC” is a case in point. Valentine’s guitar work on this version of an Arthur Lee tune is deliriously inspired, yet the song remains resolutely earthbound thanks to Foole’s crude and approximate vocals. Likewise, Foole delivers the lyric to “The Lion of Green” aimlessly and with a distinct lack of conviction – understandably so, since the lyric itself is fragmentary and elliptical: “Sounds of a summer afternoon/MV channels Verlaine/on a lithium smorgasbord/pick and moan/and applies the glue.”

Foole himself plays bluesy acoustic guitar throughout the album, adding a homely and pastoral vibe that sits uneasily alongside Valentine and Elder’s more wigged out excursions. “Feed the King” and the tiresomely punning “When (The) Foole Comes Out” represent the album at its most out there, with MV and EE adding flute, trumpet, bells and various percussion instruments; yet Foole cannot resist the temptation to overemote vocally, and both tracks are somewhat tame when compared with the loopy urgency of contemporaries like Sunburned Hand of the Man. It’s a pity that, on the evidence of Daze on the Mounts, this senior figure in an important movement does not share the dynamism and charisma regularly exhibited by his younger confrères.

(Originally published in The Sound Projector 16, 2008)

Cultural Amnesia: Enormous Savages

The appearance of this record is a remarkable piece of musical archaeology and certainly one of the reissues of the year. Active between 1980 and 1983, Cultural Amnesia were a deeply submerged part of the British post-punk underground scene, dispensing experimental synth pop with an Industrial edge. Their milieu was the cassette culture, a many-tentacled network of like-minded souls which took full advantage of the ubiquity of the compact cassette and the affordability of multi-track recording equipment, recording their music at home and distributing it principally by mail order. Into this vibrant scene, Cultural Amnesia launched three full-length albums and numerous tracks on compilations; this new album contains a tantalisingly small, nine-song selection of these.

The connections between Cultural Amnesia and the early Industrial scene are more than just stylistic, and the echoes of Throbbing Gristle present in both the title and the music of a song like “Scars For E” not just coincidental. The band were unofficially managed by the late John Balance of Coil, who also wrote lyrics for them (“Scars For E” being one of three Balance-penned tracks on this album). Balance was intimately connected to TG through his musical and personal partnership with Peter Christopherson, and Cultural Amnesia recall the later work of TG in their warped pop sensibility and often unsavoury lyrical content.

Closer antecedents, however, would be the gaunt yet lyrical early work of Ultravox, Gary Numan and the Human League. The record opens with “Kingdom Come”, which sounds like nothing so much as an electronic folk song. In a mannered yet arresting vocal style, Gerard Greenway delivers a wordy, baroque text: “I spend my morning planning the afternoon’s regrets/I’ve elements and destiny to light me on my way/O happy days I hope to keep my relatives and pets/You can laugh or you can cry/It’s the same salt water in your eye…” This level of lyrical verbosity recurs throughout the album, but it is done with so much flair and self-confidence that they get away with it easily. Greenway’s voice is strangely affecting, while the wordiness of the songs, coupled with the skeletal melody lines, create an utterly distinctive atmosphere of blank austerity.

Other highlights include “Repetition For This World”, in which choppy guitars enter the mix alongside the band’s trademark synthesisers. Those guitars stretch themselves out over an extended synth outro, while the fitful vocals and propulsive drumming evoke the churning angularity of This Heat and early Joy Division. Elsewhere, the synths and percussion on “Blind Rag” uncoil powerfully around an unnerving tale of social and romantic awkwardness, while “Here To Go” takes Balance’s powerful, existential lyric (“I am a resultant, a coincidence of fields/When the magnetic fields shift there is no here/I am gone, I am thought in action”) and turns it into a song that more than compensates for a lack of finesse with its barked, urgent vigour. The whole album, in fact, is alive with such atmospheres. Cultural Amnesia have recently reformed and are working on new material; it’s hard, though, to see them bettering Enormous Savages, a set of intricate electronic ballads that honestly and evocatively reflect the time and place of their creation.

(Originally published in The Sound Projector 16, 2008)