Wednesday, June 25, 2008

This Heat - Deceit

Although much hallowed already, I'll take a gentle stab into Deceit.

Charles Hayward, drums, voice, tapes, says this of the two albums:

"The way that we explained it to ourselves was the first one[This Heat 1] was the dread, the fear unspoken, unrationalized. The second [Deceit] was the fear slightly more rationalized. The dread and fear thing was this whole (nuclear) mutually-assured-destruction thing that was happening at the time. We all thought that we were going to die in about two, three years. We really did."

After listening back to these albums a second time, I can understand what he's talking about (although whether or not the albums were meant to be conceptual is up in the air). One thing's for sure, the band was more focused and indeed song-oriented this time around.

That's not to say that radical experimentation takes a backseat. "Sleep" opens the album with piano tape loops, both looped and live percussion, and and a choir of ragged voices. The vocal harmonies are most notable for Charles Bullen's(guitar, tapes, bass, keyboards, vox) deep bass, usually singing a full octave below Hayward's and Gareth William's tenor and baritone ranges. Most of the harmonies move in parallels instead of Beatles-style triads, which create a very heavy and almost menacing feel that permeates the record. Hayward's singing is barely that, as he prefers to deliver his words with atonal shrieks and primal howls. He saves the rage for future tracks though, and

Each song has its own unique structure. "Sleep" is very simple, hypnotic as the title implies. They follow this strange beauty with one of the most abrasive, aggressive and downright brilliant slices of post-punk I've ever heard. "Paper Hats" opens with a circularly-picked detuned guitar and corresponding tom to hi-hat syncopations, with quiet lyrical questions exploding into a storm of screams and splash cymbals. As the song builds to a climax, a hailstorm of taped effects rings out over a rollicking beat as the guitars hew away frantically, giving way to what some consider the birth of post-rock. The final 3 minutes are dedicated to a muted A flat power chord resolving to an E in a time signature that I still can't count, but have learned how to play. The hi-hat is the center, as it's eighth note open/close pattern is endless. The kick drum only hooks up with the E in the guitar at the end of each phrase, to give extra emphasis to the shift in time signature. The snare is used for color, and behind this strange rhythmic muscle (no bass guitar in the entire song!) echoed and distorted tape effects radiate and shift constantly until you realize that the tapes are a room-recording of the band playing the same section slower, so as to cause a phase out as the song fades to nothing.

And that's just one song. Shades of Henry Cow, Can, Faust, and Soft Machine in just over 6 minutes.

"SPQR" is a bass-less barn-storming classic, as a four-on-the-floor drum approach bereft of the snare drum is augmented by complex cymbal polyrhythms and a guitar approach that sounds like Bullen won't be content until he saws off every last string. It's a frantic piece that also features a saxophone, dub effects and fine mixing with lyrics that reveal, "We're all Romans, we know all about, straight roads, every straight road leads home, home to Rome." Just an unbelievable lyrical idea, delivered with battering ferocity under the guise of a simple rock song. This is followed by my personal favorite "Cenotaph."

If anything defines angular sound, it is the first few bars of "Cenotaph." Again, Hayward's constantly pulsing hi-hat and pitched up snare lead the way, as a guitar and bass pick single notes against each other seemingly at random. Only until the section is repeated do you recognize the method to the madness, as every last note is repeated in sequence. The group vocals are in fine form, with no fluff harmonies, only octaves and parallel fifths. The lyrics are breathtaking, describing a post-nuclear war and resigning to this horrible inevitability, "History, history, repeats itself," making sure it's beaten into the listener's skull. The song's jagged guitar work and wandering bassline collapse after a strange bridge (including directly recorded guitar?), eventually succumbing to a ghostly saxophone planing on a forgotten riff as the band is overtaken by a delay and reverb effects.

The second side of the album is unflinchingly bleak, which is saying a lot. "Shrinkwrap" is "Sleep's" obnoxious ADD-riddled little brother, with a constant, "You lie you lie, you lie" vocal tape loop hammering away in the background. "Radio Prague" is the one near-miss on the album, a literal taping of radio with someone working the faders, giving way to the hardcore/hard rock/prog of "Makeshift Swahili." A tad more traditional than the other cuts, the band slices funk up with drone, as Hayward howls his way to an epic primal-screaming conclusion. Here's a live version (warning: this performance is insane).

"Independence" is a beautiful curio, combining crisply recorded acoustic guitar, a flute organ, what sounds like a live flute, and drums with a liberal re-interpretation of our nation's Declaration of Independence. Strange and dark, the song gives way to the epic "A New Kind of Water," which somehow maintains an air of optimism amidst the doom-laden imagery and howling guitars. The true power of the track lies in the bass and drums, hooking up for some of the most powerful interplay put on magnetic tape.

As quickly as it begins, the record is over with "Hi Baku Sho (Suffer Bomb Disease)," a sparse instrumental held up with harmonium variations, looped and distorted voice and other found sounds.

An insane step forward for a band who just one year previous had only fleetingly attempted to write "songs," Deceit is a document of late 70's fear and paranoia. We all joke about the Cold War now, but the fear was real, and Dr. Strangelove scenarios had been accepted as truths. Although representing an era almost 40 years in our past, Deceit is ageless, a truly innovative work that bobs and weaves its way out of conventional pigeonholing until today, when Mark E. Smith's words ring true:

The experimental is the new conventional

1 comment:

Evan said...

Great rec!!

After posing my question last week, I, of course, listened to Deceit again and found the lines in Paper Hats that seemed to comment on their previous record as well as how they conceived of the material on Deceit:

"What does this tune signify?
What is its meaning?
Is it really that straight forward?
Or are our ears beyond words?"

Whereas on "This Heat" musical material was constructed and often times deconstructed to provide something of an unspoken meaning, "Deceit" seems to be MORE OF A RECORD. That is, the music appears to be less meticulously crafted in an intellectual sense, but functions much like the modern-day record. "This Heat" moves like a tone-poem from front to back; the strength of the record in the whole. "Deceit" can be taken at any point and expresses clearly a palpable sense of dread; each song is self-contained, yet when placed together give "Deceit" a much more mystical and amoeba-like feel; an opening into the cosmos (whereas "This Heat" constantly justifies itself in its own self-referential language, thus enclosing it from the cosmos).