Bonged out openers for this much anticipated psych-fest were Horrid, a band I literally had passing knowledge of: I’d caught sight of them through a window at this year’s Sounds From The Other City, but given the offer of only Heineken to drink in the venue half of our party had decided we weren’t to stay. That afternoon, bedecked in hoods fashioned from sacks, they were making a wonderfully trashy and lurching racket. Thankfully tonight the costumes and the sounds were present again as they performed what was apparently or allegedly only their second gig. Consisting of one long industrial/spaced-out throb piece, interspersed by chants seemingly emanating from under the singer’s head sack, Horrid’s set was perfectly timed in its peaks and troughs, and got a series of heads nodding. Horrid are definitely worth keeping a (third) eye on (sorry).
Next up were Dwellings & Druss, two (core) members of the GNOD collective and the originators of the submerged techno dread of GNOD Presents. For some the idea of watching two blokes twiddling knobs on an array of samplers, mixing desks, compact synths and looping pedals is not entertainment. For me, however, it is heaven. Reversed sampled voices mixed and layered with reversed engineered neo-Acid. White noise and serrated interference stitched with bubblings and bangs. It’s hard to describe and praise enough this set of rabidly diverse leftfield rave noise. This is how improvised electronica should be and attests to the brilliant artful talent of GNOD and their multifarious offshoots.
I thought the evening had peaked. Then along came Mugstar and battered us with a truly sonic assault of riffed-up space rock. Pete Smyth shook his head from side to side with so much vigour you wondered whether he was auditioning for a remake of Jacob’s Ladder. Steve Ashton’s drums and Jason Stoll’s bass were unyielding. It was beautifully relentless. The music and strobed visuals held out a meditative intensity that made you question whether you were being subjected to and/or incorporated into some ritual of unknown aim and intent. Amazing and the best I’ve seen them.
I’m struggling to remember a review that has taken so long to form in my tiny little mind (something you’ll doubt when you’ve read it). This is mainly due to the amount of re-learning, even retraining, The Shallows has demanded.
So the day comes when you get wind that one of your favourite bands is making a new album and you fall into the requisite states of excitement and anticipation. When it finally arrives in your world – as this did, shamefully, some time ago now – and you hit play for the first time, expectations reach silly proportions. If and when you then realise that these prospects are not going to be easily or immediately sated, a sense of disappointment can take hold.
You persist. You succumb to a mode of slow listening. You hold onto your band loyalty. You adjust and recalibrate your ears. You attempt the ‘listening as if for the first time’ technique. You imagine the band as having a different history. And then, from seemingly nowhere, it begins to make sense.
The signs were there. He Who Saw The Deep represented a departure from the immediate pleasures of previous releases, yet it included the magisterial ‘Sea of Regrets’ as a link to the past and the rasping bass that signaled the change in energy during ‘Progress is a Snake’ satisfied various needs. On The Shallows nearly all hints at or memories of the epic and the theatrical have been laid to rest. The waves of guitars and orchestration which characterised earlier ILT releases were akin to ominous and coastal-defence defying breakers. Here there is a gentle almost imperceptible lapping of calm water around the edges of your emotions that takes time to weather and do its damage. And on repeated listens you realise that crescendos are there if you still need that fix (especially on ‘The Hive’ and ‘Reykjavik’), but they’re handled with more subtlety and are submerged further down into the mix so as to give the vocals, the choruses and the delightfully opaque lyrics more prominence. In short, it’s more The National than Mogwai.
Hence The Shallows is not an easy first, second or third listen if you don’t want your assurances challenged. With effort, a reorientation of perspective and an abandonment of certain tags, you’re gradually repaid through a realisation that these are really great songs (not cinematic ‘movements’). I’m desperate (and once again expectations are built) that it translates and is enhanced further in a live situation.