Posts Tagged ‘Dave Phillips’

Misanthropic Agenda – 20th June 2022

Christopher Nosnibor

I’ll admit, I was struck by the name when this landed in my inbox. Success! With an insane number of submission emails day, I don’t even open most, let alone play the albums attached. But then I learned that PWIS is Nathalie Dreier – who’s interesting for her visual work as well as her audio – and Dave Phillips, who’s To Death I covered last year – which deepened my intrigue. And it’s one hell of a cover, too.

Meaning What Exactly? is quite a different proposition – from pretty much anything, in truth. Presenting four lengthy compositions, it’s fundamentally an electronic album, but it’s far more than that, or anything. The title is a challenge, a query, a – what I keep hearing as a phrase in my corporate dayjob – a ‘provocation’. It comes down to ‘exactly’. The word is weighted; even without explicit emphasis, it feels emphasised, vaguely stroppy even. The addition is the lexical equivalent of a hand on hip, a raised eyebrow, a scowl, a sneer of condescension to a worker from another department who has no facts. ‘Yeah, do your research, bitch’, is what it says.

And who really knows what it means, or what anything means? Exactly. And what this album means – exactly – I can’t quite fathom. The titles conflict with the contents, at least, based on my lived experience, on my reception. They say it’s a ‘dialogue mixing treated field recordings with organic acoustics and digital sources, brought together in long trance-inducing sessions of meticulous audio de/construction and philosophical debate’. But how much of that is apparent in the end product? Well, that’ debatable.

‘Pangolin’ is otherworldly eerie: a booming drum echoes out through a shifting reverberation of spine-shaking synths. It doesn’t readily evoke aardvark-like creatures, apart from perhaps in the final minute or so when Drier’s monotone vocals are replaced by snuffling barking sounds. It’s weird, but then, what did you expect? I don’t know what I expected, if I’m honest, but probably not this. This is dark, disorientating, disturbed and disturbing, and even more challenging for the absence of context. Meaning is the end product of intent, of purpose, and there’s no clear indication of where this is coming from, meaning we’re left to face the strange with no guidance.

A grinding bass and muffled, muttering voices, whispering about fish all build to a hellish tumult of murmurs and doom-sodden low range hums and thrums, and nothing feels right. It’s awkward, and unsettling. You – certainly I – don’t really tune into the words delivered by Drier in her suffocating spoken word passages, not out of disregard or disrespect, but because all of it comes together to create a claustrophobic listening experience. Meaning What Exactly? is not an album you sit and dissect, or sit and comfortably disassemble or analyse. I find myself, instead, contemplating the meaning of meaning.

‘Us vs Us’ plunges into deeper, darker territories, with a grinding, driving bass worthy of Earth, propelled by thunderous sensurround drumming, with purgatorial howls echoing all around. It’s heavy, harrowing, and it’s that simple, tribal drum style that defines and dominates the eerie eleven-minute closer, ‘The House is Black’. The house is black and the atmosphere is bleak: the vocals are mangled and distorted and play out against a murky, fragmented, fractured backing, to unsettling effect. The beats are sparse, subdued, distant, yet taut, crashing blasts and ricochets. You make it want to stop. The clock is ticking. Your chest tightens. The nerve rise, jangling, fearful. It’s like walking through a graveyard at night, knowing there’s someone lese shuffling around nearby. Make it stop, make it stop!

A crackle, a crunch. What is this, exactly? Perverts in White Shirts don’t only excavate darker domains, but scour and gouge their way into the darker, deeper territories where tension pulls tight and tighter still. It’s the sound of trauma, of suffocation. Meaning it feels like a direct passage to the depths, meaning it’s dark, uncomfortable, like it’s almost unbearable at times. Meaning it’s good.

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Misanthropic Agenda – MAR057 – 7th July 2021

Christopher Nosnibor

The title of Dave Phillips’ new album is quite explicit: it’s an album dedicated to death. He explains this in the liner notes, ‘not death the spectre that installs horror and fear in many (in the western world), nor death the enemy of the (western) for-profit medical system, but death as part of a cycle, like birth. death the only certainty in life. dying, like living, as something that can be done well – or not. death also something that can be a release, a relief, a liberation, the end of suffering, a freedom.’

The album, which he directs the listener to play as one continuous session, was inspired by his father’s illness, deterioration and death, and being his carer for the 15 last months of his life, and was, poignantly, sent off to press in early June 2021, when his father died. This clearly makes To Death an incredibly personal work.

Perhaps predictably, To Death is a dark album. Predictably, not primarily because of the subject matter, but because my last encounter with Phillips’ work – 2014’s Homo Animalis – was pretty dark, too, although he’s done a hell of a lot since then. And for Phillips’ observation that death can be ‘a relief, a liberation, the end of suffering, a freedom’, death is rarely seen as a cause for elation or celebration in the human psyche, particularly in the west, where there is a deep-rooted fear of death, and a culture that promotes prolonging and preserving life at all costs, regardless of quality. Death is perceived as a loss, something devastating, and to be avoided at all costs, and I’m forever presented with news items and comments on social media about people who have died in their 70s or 80s – particularly during the pandemic – having been ‘taken before their time’. But when is their time? Everyone has a time, and everyone has to die of something, and the state of denial about the inevitability of death is psychologically detrimental.

But as the title of the album’s second track says it so succinctly, ‘fear of death = fear of life’. A life lived in fear of death is no life at all. Of course, an awareness of death is something else entirely. You have to take some risks to know you’re actually alive. How many people say on their death bed that they were glad they did nothing in case it killed them? There’s a clear theme to this album, both sonically and in the tiles: ‘everyone dies, not everyone lives’ is the perfect encapsulation of Phillips’ ethos. It also manifests as a dolorous booming drone like a ship’s horn juxtaposed with maniacal shouting, distorted and raw, and very much in the vein of Prurient. As such, Phillips articulates beyond words and reaches into the very core of the psyche.

Ominous drones that hum and buzz hover unsettlingly and uncomfortably, eddying around whispered words, barely audible during the ten-minute first track, ‘a cycle completed’. What is it about whispers in darkness that we find so unnerving? Gradually, ponderous bass notes and dubious creaking sounds enter the mix as the drones become more tense and eerie.

The third piece, ‘to death we all go, the sooner the better’ is filled with agonised shrieks and howls and pain and anguish – and the title conveys a sentiment I can truly buy into. Humanity is a scourge, and the worst of all plagues on the planet.

Listening to the album in a single sitting is certainly a powerful experience, and there is some dense, challenging noise, and things grow darker and doomier as the album progresses: a stark piano note chinks out and is quickly submerged in a wheezing drone and more muttered narrative on ‘real catastrophe’ which plunges deep into underground rumblings. ‘We are the virus…’ he whispers amidst a soup of spectral voices. ‘The real catastrophe is that humanity continues.’ Phillips’ apparent misanthropy is hardly unjustified: in the scheme of all eternity, it’s taken us but the blink of an eye to render countless species extinct and decimate countless ecosystems. In nature, other species don’t destroy their own habitat. Even viruses and parasites evolve to achieve maximum replication without destroying their hosts. It’s simply not in their interests. The common cold is the most successful virus of all time because it’s highly contagious but rarely kills its host, other than by complications. The more hosts available, the times it can reinfect, the less work it has to do to propagate itself.

Siren-wailing undulations lead us to ‘the other side’, a groaning, wheezing croak of a composition built on repetition before finally, the title track crawls to the finish – and having made it, I can die happy.

Some speculate that death is not the end, but the likelihood is that it is, and regardless of spiritual belief, physically, it is. And why should that be such a bad thing? All things must end, and it’s a matter of when, rather than if. Live life: accept death.

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