Thursday, 10 September 2009

Bark Psychosis - 'Hex' (Caroline)

In the shadowy microscenes we all occupied in the 90s, a few albums had a special significance. Hex is one of these, though it was a microscene that I sort of skated around. Back when I used to find out about music through listserv recommendations and the occasional allmusic.com-esque resource, it gradually became apparent to me that Hex was going to be a somewhat 'mandatory' listen. I was continually enthralled by Talk Talk's Laughing Stock et al. from the age of 19 on, and Hex was promised to be either a worthy sucessor or a blatant ripoff, depending on who you heard it from. It was quite difficult to find for awhile due to Caroline's weird distribution but I remember the day I finally tracked it down (through some secondhand half.com-style store) and listened to it for the first time. Actually, this CD doesn't really sound much like Talk Talk, a truth which brought immediate disappointment back then; now years later, its individuality is probably what salvages Hex and makes me so appreciative of it. Most of the records that really do sound like Laughing Stock clones (such as that last Slowdive album, or that one Dean Roberts solo record) are too indistinct, like their soul has been sucked out. I know it's a long time til we reach the T's, but soul is what makes Mark Hollis's music so powerful and well, epoch-defining. I don't feel the soul in quite the same way here; BP's songwriting is no less serious but it failed to connect with me on any level. Again, that's not a bad thing, but something different. Bark Psychosis have the same lush organicism that Talk Talk got into, but there's something very on-the-mark about their approach. I listen to 'Pendulum Man', which is the longest track here, and there are some definitely gorgeous soundscapes in there but also the slighest tendency towards repetitive rhythmic structures. Whatever everyone was calling 'post-rock' in the 90s may have actually been, it was rooted in stuff like Laughing Stock but then split and traveled in various directions. Hex is absolutely gorgeous but it was a fork, and maybe along the way that road led through Radiohead, Hood, maybe Fridge or Four Tet -- and then back to Bark Psychosis when they finally released Codename:Dustsucker (which I surely would have jizzed over if I heard it in 2000 but it came too late to claim any of my already-ravaged attention span. Sadly). I know I'm not doing them any service to keep comparing Hex to Talk Talk, but BP also struck me as extremely British (like British Petroleum, another BP acronym?) and even though Talk Talk were British too, I think Hollis' influences were far more American. Hex was always a little disturbingly close to all of those scary things I associated with British music in the 90's: clubs, flashing lights, electronic beats, synthetic drugs and weird London slang. Of course that's mostly off-base because this is really slow, introspective music that makes grand gestures towards beauty, dissonance and texture. But I still hear it - this is a band that is making fantastic, powerful music with a pile of gear and expensive recording technology. This is not four guys in a garage with a few effects pedals. Some tracks, like 'Absent Friend', have parts that remind me of traditional/medieval folk music actually - even though it clicks into a more 'modern' sound. Throughout Hex, there are some lovely rhythms and the sounds of various instruments going in and out of phase with each other through their melodic cycles. The lyrics are there and the singing needs to be heard, but the words don't matter. I probably listened to this record at least 30 times back in the day, and it feels very familiar, although it still feels new. This is music that doesn't dig into my brain; it floats overtop and makes millions of synaptic connections each time I heard it, but has never quite become "mine". Maybe I'm just saying that it doesn't have obvious hooks, no hit song, nothing so obvious. Whenever there's the old debate about Appolonian vs. Dionysian sound, I wonder where Bark Psychosis score - they seem to be somewhat beyond such classifications.

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