Reclaiming Modernity


A Column

Jasss/Felicia Atkinson/Wilted Woman/Kara-Lis Coverdale/Teresa Winter/Maxwell Stirling/Shinichi Atobe

“In short, the true courage is to admit that the light at the end of the tunnel is most likely the headlights of another train approaching us from the opposite direction” – Slavoj Žižek

This courage of hopelessness defined a year that began badly, then got worse. As Ali Smith states in the first line of ‘Autumn’ (Penguin): “It was the worst of times, it was the worst of times”. Must I count the ways? With my generation entering our own metaphorical autumn, the death of Mark Fisher symbolised not only the extinguishing of the light at the end of that tunnel, but also the derailment of the train. Inevitably, his passing hauntologically informed the unfolding year: the ghost of ideology past; the ghost of ideology present; the ghost of ideology future; reality as surreality; the stalking horses of parliamentary pantomime, hunting disadvantage in packs. Shock doctrines mocked, media moguls warped public perceptions, minority railed against minority, whilst division cheered from the benches, hiding in plain sight.

“And I’m up while the dawn is breaking/Even though my heart is aching/I should be drinking a toast to absent friends/Instead of these comedians” – Elvis Costello 

With academia seemingly under attack, it was left to the comedians to gather the commentariat slack. It’s amazing what you can get away with in the name of satire, until you’re eventually decommissioned, quietly. Stewart Lee and Frankie Boyle lead the line here in the UK, as the case for Doug Stanhope for president of the USA grew in stature, tweet by tweet. The threat of book burnings superseded library closures, plans to eradicate the past in a bid to stop us learning from history’s mistakes unfolded in Whitehall. Henry VIII powers lay in wait, the post-war statute book trembling in their shadow, a Queen before the gallows. The language of oppression chiselled away at the bust of the national consciousness, the constant drip-drip of a tap desperately in need of a new philosophical washer. Swathes of a demographic once united through Two Tone now found themselves estranged by Brexit. As Comrade Corbyn tightened his grip on power, the elite merely sharpened their pens, polishing their ceremonial swords. The unacceptable face of freedom. We will never allow you to govern.

2017 will go down in whatever purports to be history in whatever is left of the future as the year of ‘knowing someone in this life that loves with a passion called hate’ (Paul Weller). Those who once considered themselves the enemy within, now turn on the enemy without. 2017: The Year Homelessness Broke. With only the cult of the individual to keep us warm at night, a mere six degrees of separation between us and the concrete beneath the beach, we grope for our devices the moment we regain consciousness, to reconnect to the matrix, in this age of dislocation. There is no atonement in a landscape shaped by injustice. We are complicit in our estrangement from ourselves, our families, our history, our culture, our future. Condemned to repeat, to collude, at best unknowingly, at worse complicity. The fine art of sufficing for a generation born of rebellion, raised on unqualified success, ascended to hierarchal heaven, to gaze down, ultimately alone.

As is traditional at this time of the year, it has become a populist pastime to construct lists. The age of the internet has elevated individual opinion to whatever platform it can ill afford. The cult of the music journalist nothing but a quaint footnote in the dyslexic body of critical mass. That pile of moulding magazines in the attic of cultural oblivion. The relativity of subjectivity, a conceit that cannot exist, neither theoretically, or in practice. The notion that an assessment based on or influenced by personal feelings, tastes or opinions, can exist or possess specified characteristics only in comparison to something else, is by no means absolute. There is, therefore, no universal truth, only a patchwork quilt of relative truths. There have been times, back in the past, where I would have scoured these co-called lists, searching for failings on the part of my own assessment processes, vacuums of disconnectedness in my personal hall of records. In our failings we become losers, as losers we live outside of margins. These days, the exhaustive nature of listdom renders the assessment process ever-more unapproachable. Who do we talk to when a body’s in trouble?

Accepting, then, that there is no ‘album of the year’ is a fiercely liberating process. Forgiving the sin of elitism through original singularity is akin to emancipation. To me, every record I’m listening to at that moment in time is by definition the greatest record ever made. Music is the very art of being here now. Transcending judgemental perspectives instilled in us by arbiters of taste, elevating engagement beyond consumption. Upwards, towards atomic oneness: a universe of untold possibility. In the past, we’ve produced our own lists. I’m not going to lie to you, or deny our history. We’ve even emulated dead heroes with Festive Fifties. This year, instead, we’ve merely posted the artwork to our favourite albums, as of 17/12/17. Some of these records we’ve written about in the preceding twelve columns of 2017, some of them we may well feature in future columns of 2018. No names, no pack drill. If you’re intrigued, do your homework. Reinvest a little of that old magical mystery into the anodyne process of year-end assessment.

Meanwhile, back at the plot, these are records I have fallen in love with whilst conducting my own limited assessment of other people’s lists, plus a few that got overlooked from the piles that litter the killing floor of the tMx bunker. As I’ve opined above, there are very few in the way of authoritative voices out there in the post-everything ether, thus I’ve collated this anything-but-concise anti-list using mainly my ears and my sociological imagination, from labels I love, and distributors I trust:

Jasss – ‘Weightless’ (iDeal Recordings): “I wanted to love someone . . . I wanted to love someone more than I love you”. So begins ‘Every Single Fish In The Pond’, the opening cut from Silvia Jiménez Alvarez (aka Jasss) debut long player for iDeal Recordings. As soon as I heard those words, I was gripped. They encapsulated exactly where both my head and my heart were at, the precise moment I first heard them. That connection launched a voyage of discovery into Jasss’ universe of dark jazz, African and South American rhythms, punk and hardcore attitude, industrial bleakness, dub space and experimental electronic topography. ‘Weightless’ is filmic in scope, an abstract wide-screen sonic epic of oscillating frequencies warped at the analogue altar of Santiago de Compostela. A record that resonates through the engulfing darkness of my winter solitude. ‘Weightless’ takes back control of the power of electronics from the bedroom fascists to instil beauty and rhythmic dexterity through femininity.

Félicia Atkinson – ‘Hand In Hand’ (Shelter Press): Seemingly impenetrable on first listen, the whispering intimacy of ‘Hand In Hand’ took me some time to fully embrace. I read the reams of plaudits with interest, hugely impressed, but didn’t fully succumb until very late in the year. For a while, the more I listened, the further away true love wandered away into the distance. Fascinated by the tones and the drones, the meandering and the bubbling, I persisted, but still the spoken words kept me at arm’s length, deep into the night. Eventually, the damn broke, early one evening, at the heart of winter, snow piled outside my door, my heart slighted, faltering, in need of both spiritual and ethereal sustenance, I finally found the courage to pledge my love to Felicia Atkinson. Once committed, the intimacy that at first scared me quickly became the connectivity that ensnared me. There has been no other record in 2018 that I have worked so hard to love.

Wilted Woman – ‘Home Listener’ (Alien Jams): Operating somewhere in the glitch-ridden middle ground between Beatrice Dillon and Karen Gwyer, Berlin-based Wilted Woman (aka Eel Burn) synthesises sinister bleeps and weirdly graceful tones that capture both the sweat of the dance floor and the relative comfort of the living room on this 5-track EP. Acidic analogue squiggles dart in and out of the staggering rhythms in a seance of apparitional manifestation, reimagining parity between mind and body. Arpeggiating particles accelerate on an elliptical orbit, returning in ovular fashion. ‘Bubbling Again’ is at the centre of this universe, epitomising the playfulness at the heart of ‘Home Listener’.

Kara-Lis Coverdale – ‘Grafts’ (Boomkat Editions): ‘Grafts’ is one of those records, one that invades your heart from first listen, and then forces the rest of your being to pay attention at gunpoint. Delivered in 3-short movements over twenty-three minutes, Kara-Lis Coverdale has captured the breadth of her art in bottomless depth in one sitting with this release. In tune with much of the 70s Italian experimentalism I’ve been immersed in for much of this year, ‘Grafts’ transcends such antecedents to soar above almost everything I’ve heard in 2017. There’s a wonderful immediacy here, a sense of deja-vu that envelopes from the first note: short enough in the moment to repeat ad finitum, long enough at its deepest point to imagine that it could continue into eternity without protest. Each movement is subtly different, building towards a crescendo of understated majesty that inspires both reflection and subsequent resolution. Sometimes it may indeed seem like everything in life is prone to let us down, but at the seismic centre of ‘Grafts’, an embryonic, strangely fetal embrace assures us that this music will never break its bond of attachment with the listener.

Teresa Winter – ‘Untitled Death’ (The Death Of Rave): From the mushrooms that adorn the sleeve of Teresa Winter’s vinyl debut for The Death Of Rave, to the broken electronica at its core, ‘Untitled Death’ is a portable psilocybin festival heading Wales-ward for Devil’s Bridge, sometime back at the dawn of the 80s. Imagine a psychedelic reinvention of Kluster, high on euphoric recall, beguiling yet knowing in its shapeshifting elasticity. Over the course of 6-pieces in the space of 32-minutes, Winter warms the frozen ventricles of any given broken heart, defrosting the imagination, reigniting the intrigue, refuelling the impetus for continued sonic exploration. The latest addition to my here and now, ‘Untitled Death’ forges a path of possibility that has remained overgrown since the cessation of psychoactive substance ingestion. As a pre-teen, the auricular sorcery of Page and Plant could achieve such mind-expansion alone, it’s reassuring to rediscover these pathways once again through the auditory hallucinations of Teresa Winter.

Maxwell Stirling – ‘Hollywood Medieval’ (The Death Of Rave): Son of erstwhile post-punk iconoclast and leader of Ludus, Linder Sterling, Maxwell maintains the familial tradition of challenging convention with his debut vinyl outing, ‘Hollywood Medieval’. Composed in response to his tenure working as a nursery nurse in support of his studies at UCLA in the early 2010s, the record delves into the contradictions posed by the extremes of wealth and poverty at the heart of LA’s fiscal elite through synthesiser abuse. Sterling pushes the envelopes of every constituent particle in seven flavours during a packed thirty-six minutes. Fault lines open up like San Andreas at the high end of the Richter Scale to reconfigure in unrecognisable alignments. ‘Hollywood Medieval’ is the kind of record I could imagine Mark Fisher writing about at length. From the visual stimulus of Linder’s artwork to the sophisticated compositional art at the epicentre of the music, Maxwell Stirling has created a work of great value that will echo outward into a future, far beyond this place in time.

Shinichi Atobe – ‘From The Heart, It’s A Start, A Work Of Art’ (DDS): Complied from three retooled undercarriages nearly two decades old, plus four new explorations freshly minted in a sympathetic guise, ‘From The Heart, It’s a Start, A Work Of Art’ is precisely that. From the sublime minimalism of ‘Regret’ to the metronomic static crackle of ‘First Plate 3′, this seven track EP ranks amongst Atobe’s finest work. House music all night long.

And finally, trakMARX will continue to exist moving forwards into 2018, despite a million reservations. There may be server transfers sometime early in the new year, which may affect transmission temporarily at some stage. We will keep you posted in this regard via the Facebook page (link in masthead). Thanks for reading in 2017, wishing each and every one of you everything you hope for in the coming year!

Jean Encoule - December 28th, 2017

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