Unsounds – 54U
This is one of many releases I’ve been sitting on – figuratively speaking – for a long time without getting round to playing. I tend to listen to CDs while at work in my day-job, and digital promos at home (because I can’t stream or download on work systems), and while I can stuff a bunch of regular CDs into a jiffy and carry them to and from the office, the packaging of this release made it simply impractical. That, and the fact I had to battle long and hard with myself to resist the urge to burn the thing.
It’s not that I have any kind of objection to any of the artists in this three-way collaboration, or take issue with its premise, namely a series of portraits of radical heretical figures from across history, spanning Caravaggio and the Marquis de Sade, to William Burroughs and Johnny Rotten. In fact, it’s a concept I can get on board with, and for months I’ve looked at the magnificent packaging, a box-type affair which folds out to reveal a CD, a DVD and a book containing all of the words to the tracks – some in French, some in English, some in a combination of the two – forming a rich linguistic tapestry. Published in an edition of just 1,000 copies, including 26 lettered copies, it’s a work of art, not a disposable piece of trash. But the box is a giant flip-front matchbook. The front cover is made of fine sandpaper, and glued inside the flap, on its own, stark and inviting is a match, a full fore inches long. What would be more in keeping with the spirit of the project than burning it without hearing so much as a note, and reviewing the sound of the fire taking hold and the rustle of art burning, the colour of the dancing flames and the texture of the ash? It would hardly be Watch the KLF Burn a Million Quid, but nevertheless… I’m a pussy. I was also too curious to explore the contents of the package. And having heard the album and watched the film, there was no way I could even pretend to burn it. I’m weak. I’m no heretic.
Chaton, Moor and Moore are no heretics, either: they’re artists who appreciate heretics. It’s not always obvious to whom each piece relates, and perhaps a priori knowledge of the individual heretical figures is beneficial, as is an ability to translate French. ‘The Things that belong to William’ does not mention Burroughs by name. However, the bilingual text, in referencing ‘a Paregoric Kid’, ‘Pontopon Rose’, ‘Joselito’, ‘Bradley the Buyer’ and a host of characters and scenes from Naked Lunch and beyond, the connection is clear – to those versed in the author’s work. ‘Poetry Must Me Made By All’ is, then, presumably, a dedication to Comte de Lautreamont, pro-plagiaristic precursor of the Surrealists, Situationists and Neoists, as well as the cut-up technique of Burroughs and Gysin.
Textually – these are texts and not lyrics, delivered in a spoken word / narrative form – it’s an erudite work, researched, intertextual, referential. Sonically, it’s no more immediate. Oblique, obtuse, challenging: these are the first descriptors which volunteer their services in untangling Heretics.
‘Casino Rabelaisien’ is a tense effort, with angular guitar clanging perpendicular to a gritty, awkward bass grind. Chatton remains nonchalant and monotone amidst the chaotic no-wave cacophony. ‘Dull Jack’ begins with Thurston’s voice alone, before churning guitars slither in. There are no regular rhythmic signatures here, no ‘tunes’, no hooks or melodies: instead, this is a set which uses instruments in a more abstract way, conjuring uneasy atmosphere and often simply attacking the senses.
With the guitars of Moor and Moore duelling, playing across one another as much as with one another, the effect is jarring, uncomfortable. Both players employ atonality and discord within their performances, and when discordant passages collide, it’s a brain-bending experience.
Heretics is a work which delivers on its promise and conveys the spirit of the outré, unconventional artists who inspired it. It is, in addition, a true work of art. Don’t burn it.