Cool Thing Records – 1st April 2022

Christopher Nosnibor

BAIT exists as a side-project for Asylums’ Michael Webster and Luke Branch, and they couldn’t be much different, with Webster using this vehicle as an outlet by which to channel all his angst and anger through sharp-eyed and sharp-tongued social observation and critique.

This debut long-player has been a long time in coming. Their eponymous mini-album landed back in March 2017, and apart from the standalone single release of ‘DLP’ in the spring of 2019, they’ve seemingly been dormant, at least in the public domain. But despite the obstacles of geography during lockdown, they’ve been busy, and the last couple of years have provided an abundance of grist to their mill.

The band describe it as ‘a digital post-punk lockdown docu-record which watches the clock, gets the jitters & lashes out just like the rest of us. It’s an internal monologue that accounts the anxiety, the struggles, the pressures experienced living by the sea during an international pandemic’.

Most struggled in one way or another during the pandemic, some unspeakably, and for a great many, the lasting effects of the trauma of lockdown and isolation are every bit as bad as those of the virus itself. Many lost loved ones, but were unable to gain closure or grieve with friends and relatives due to restrictions – while, it turns out, the government of ‘Great’ Britain partied on. It was often hard to know what to make of anything: conspiracy theories abounded, but over time, some of those theories began to look rather less far-fetched, and under such close surveillance, people could be forgiven for getting paranoid, for being angry.

Sea Change is one angry record. But to describe it as such is to overlook the emotional range it articulates: it’s an album that gives voice to anxiety, panic, fear, trauma. Perhaps it’s the ‘internal monologue’ aspect of its evolution is why it really speaks. As is so often the case, in the personal lies the universal, and it conveys the rapid changes in mood and general state of confusion, questioning, and self-doubt that defined the lockdown experience for so many of us. And just because we’ve left lockdown doesn’t mean that we’ve left lockdown behind, psychologically, meaning that Sea Change’s resonance goes far beyond that defined period in time which spawned it (‘inspired probably isn’t the word).

The mood is tense and dark throughout, and the production has that mid- to late-80s Wax Trax! Industrial feel to it: the guitars are gritty, but everything is condensed into a dense lump of sound that batters rather than saws at the senses. ‘No Sleep for Light Sleepers’ is more minimal, haunting, but also ominous, the processed spoken word like the mutter in your ear that just won’t let you settle.

It’s not entirely without humour, either: if the frenzied, pounding ‘DRAMA DRAMA DRAMA DRAMA’ encapsulates the way in which a heightened state of anxiety is a shortcut to a loss of perspective, whereby the smallest, most trivial things give cause to great panic (things you know are irrational, like, say, getting twitchy when your phone battery drops below 49%), it also highlights just how self-obsessed and microfocussed we are as a society (that that incident at the Oscars totally engulfed the internet against a backdrop of war, a cost of living crisis, and rising Covid cases and hospitalisation is perhaps the definitive moment in our culture of self-absorption, and perhaps, in the wake of lockdown panic, the need to have something to fret and opine over obsessively just to fill the gap). It’s not all completely oppressive, either: ‘Electric Murder’ is a straight-up dark electropop tune that would comfortably sit in Depeche Mode’s catalogue.

‘The Weight of the Water’ finds them punching through a steely grey mesh of guitars, and it’s dense and tense; the jitters amp up tangibly on ‘Somewhere to Be’. ‘I’ve got somewhere to be… I’ve got somewhere to be’ Webster repeats as if a mantra, like the White Rabbit trapped in a postmodern world in which all holes have been concreted over and gentrified in the name of ‘progress’. ‘Sugarlumps’ leaps from a queasy, claustrophobic wheeze to a roaring metal blast reminiscent of Ministry’s Filth Pig, and the album ends with a ferocious finale with ‘We Will Learn to Bark’, the sound of pure catharsis.

It’s pretty much an instant grab, but Sea Change is definitely an album that offers up more over repeat plays.

AA

Sea Change

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