Ashley Reaks & Joe Hakim – The Science Of Discontent

Posted: 2 July 2019 in Albums
Tags: , , ,

Christopher Nosnibor

Ashley Reaks’ second album of the year is his second (not of this year) with Hull poet Joe Hakim (who I sadly didn’t get to see perform at Long Division Festival in Wakefield the other month due to my ongoing failure to clone myself.

The Science Of Discontent – furnished with one of Reaks’ typically warped collage-art covers – returns to the bleak sociopolitical seam of its 2015 predecessor, Cultural Thrift. Reflecting on this, who would have thought that things would be even worse four years on from 2015? Back then, austerity was grinding us down in Britain as the world continued to drag its way along in the wake of the financial collapse that spanned 2007-2011.

2019, 11 years after the Conservative government announced their first austerity measures, and nine years after the programme was introduced, we’ve still ruled by austerity, and now we’ve got fucking Trump and Brexit on top. Small wonder we’re discontent.

Musically, it’s a classic Reaks cocktail of dub reggae, ska, post-punk, and – as have been coming into increasing prominence in his melting-pot-of-everything compositions – prog rock and jazz. The individual arrangements are comparatively minimal – or, more specifically, the music is kept in check during the spoken passages. This means that the instrumental segments, where the band cut loose, really stand out. By stand out, I mean like the proverbial sore thumb. That’s no criticism: it’s Reaks’ MO, and his revelling in rendering spectacular incongruities that somehow work that’s his primary superpower.

The subject matter Hakim explores on The Science Of Discontent is bleak and a times harrowing: ‘Dead Legends’ is less a celebration of posthumous recognition and the route to artistic immortality as a bitter dissection of the plight of the artist, for whom getting fucked up and committing suicide is likely the only career option that’s likely to yield any kind of success.

Death, damage, and decline are recurrent themes across the nine pieces here, and they’re all delivered in a twangy but downbeat monotone. The apparent dispassion of the delivery does nothing to detract from the lyrical impact: Hakim’s enunciation is crisp – and dry – and contrasts with the buoyant brass and thick Jah Wobble-style basslines that bounce and stroll.

‘New World Order Evangelists’ finds Hakim venting his spleen over government and conspiracy theories and contemporary culture and ‘Orwellianism’ over some seriously jazzy jazz that somehow drifts into some post-rock guitar, while the spacious soundscapes that create an oddly flat atmosphere on ‘The Customer is Always Wrong’ provides a stark and dislocated backdrop to Hakim’s monologue delivered from the perspective of a long-suffering shop worker. ‘Saturday Night Sob Story’ is more depressing still. There’s a degree of crossover in terms of territory with Sleaford Mods, but Hakim doesn’t hector, he just puts it out there in snippets of dialogue and tightly-penned vignettes.

There’s precious little joy here – and yet the quality of the wordsmithery, compositions, and musicianship – do provide reasons to be cheerful. In the face of unapologetically direct depictions of ‘broken Britain’ – minimum wage, zero-hours, shit nightclubs, drugs, booze, ruined communities, dog-eat-dog, social division – Hakim’s craft and Reaks’ crazy hybridization offer a glimmer of hope that however crushed, however fucked, however domed we all are, the imperative to creative art under the worst of circumstances remains a fundamental human trait. Ashley Reaks and Joe Hakim have (again) created an album for our time. And in such desperate times, The Science Of Discontent is precisely what we need.

AA

Science of Discontent

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