Thursday, 17 January 2013

X-TG - Desertshore/The Final Report

This final statement from most of the remaining members of Throbbing Gristle (the "TG" of X-TG) is a tribute to founder member Peter "Sleazy" Christopherson who died suddenly in 2010. Containing 2 CDs in a typically esoteric and artistic cover, Desertshore is a cover of Nico's 1970 album of the same name, and Final Report is as it implies, the last offering of TG, although the notes say that there is more to come from the sessions and a live album is also on its way.

More on that later, but for those of you unfamiliar with Throbbing Gristle here's some background:

Punk was essentially a load of spotty yoofs giving society the finger. Revolutionary? Not a bit of it, most of us grew out of it, I certainly did. No, if you want revolutionary look no further than the art terrorist collective COUM Transmissions that became Throbbing Gristle. Now there was a scary "band", although they were much more than a band in the conventional sense, mixing confrontational performance art and film into their repertoire from the beginning. However, TG as a group would probably not have existed in the format we knew were it not for punk; as ever, the nihilistic movement acted as a catalyst. The people who made up TG were put off by the faux-intellectual snobbery of the street art movement of the time, instead preferring the more direct and honest methods and attitudes displayed by the do-it-yourself troupe of spiky-haired urchins of the nascent indie record industry.

The members' awareness of the punky stirrings happening around them led to TG as a band, and to the very weird musical statements it made. Musical statements that were far far out on the fringes, wilfully staring over the precipice. Far too weird for this spotty yoof of the time, that's for sure. Their live act included all manner of confrontation, as this entry in Wikipedia attests:

"The first Throbbing Gristle performance was at the Air Gallery in London on 6 July 1976. The band performed in one room with the music "appearing" in an adjacent room. Peter worked in special effects and provided the performers with simulated scars; meanwhile, Chris actually used a razor to slash himself" (it should be pointed out that the "razor" incident is awaiting confirmation, but it is highly believable if you know anything at all about this merry collective!)

In 1977 with their introductory sonic blast, the suitably perversely named Second Annual Report, subsequently re-released in many formats and in many altered guises, TG invented what became known as "industrial" music, creating in the process a kind of modernistic musique concrete. Always very experimental, to the point of building their own instruments, those early albums along with their unusual packaging were genuinely revolutionary in a way that makes the Sex Pistols look like the musical hall puppets that they actually were. Being utterly and resolutely uncommercial they made little impact beyond a niche audience, but the influence of the band remains in the avant-garde to this day.

Of course, no words on Throbbing Gristle would be complete without mention of the visual focus of the group, one Genesis P Orridge. For those not familiar, GPO came across as if Peter Gabriel circa Foxtrot had been filtered through an outrageously sexually ambiguous nightmare of your worst imaginings. The band originally split in 1981 and re-formed in 2004, GPO leaving in 2010. The fact that he is not even mentioned in the extensive notes with this issue indicates that the parting of ways was maybe less than friendly, but then again would you expect anything less?

And now to the record...

Desertshore is a "re-imagining" of Nico's third solo album, re-positioning the work in the 21st century, and a damn fine thing it is too! Given my ramblings above, you may wonder that the noise made will be a terrifying cacophony, but you would be wrong, try the sample below to put your mind at rest:

Back in 2006, Peter had the idea to make this record with the intention of inviting several different vocalists to feature on selected songs. Through the next 4 years musical parts were added, performed, recorded, tinkered with again, and in November 2010 Peter resumed work on the album utilising "equipment acquired for the project" when his unexpected death led to the work being put on hold until it was once again re-started by his friends and band colleagues, Chris Carter and Cosi Fanni Tutti. The result of all that work is what we have here. A cast of Peter's friends from many different artistic fields intone their tribute to him, one by one, on the new title track - there was no "title" track on the original. "What is beyond the Desertshore?" they may ask, where the endless desert ends and endless sea begins. A metaphor for passing on to the next world, perhaps. A sad lone piano fades away in the mist...

Whereas Nico's album is a glacial and minimalistic construct, the light and shade of voices, including that of her then 8-year old son, backed with harmonium or John Cale's keyboards and basic electronica, X-TG's soundscape offers a fuller and more experimental picture.

A lone cornet, mournful over swathes of dark synth introduces Janitor Of Lunacy, Anthony's (of The Johnsons) angelic soaring voice being in delightful and perfect contrast to the swirling maelstrom of the music. Lovely, in a very black way. The pace is never rushed, but sometimes insistent. Blixa Bargeld's declamatory Mütterlein barks to the march of robots. Blixa also gets to star on Abschied, his Germanic tones fitting perfectly over another but less scary marching beat.

Some of the guests are not singers in their "day jobs", Argentine film maker Gasper Noé taking on the part originally sung by Nico's son on Le Petit Chevalier, which lends the threatened innocence of the original an altogether different aspect. Sasha Grey, a former adult film star, semi-speaks/drawls her way through the funereal paced Afraid, a threatening tale of subjugation. Performance of the album for me is Marc Almond's The Falconer, coming over like the evil alter-ego of no-man, as fronted by Scott Walker.

The remaining two songs are fronted by fine performances from Cosi Fanni Tutti. All That Is My Own was the de-facto title song of the original album, ending side two, and the enigmatic repeated verse that ends the song encapsulates the lost soul of the protagonist.

Your winding winds did sow
All that is my own
Where land and water meet
Where on my soul
I sit upon my bed
Your ways have led me to bleed

X-TG's version is less musically spartan but more dystopian, screeching treated guitar (possibly?) and dark waves of strangeness swirling all around the stately rhythm, while Cosi does an almost straight Nico impersonation. The other Cosi vocal is the nightmare nursery rhyme of My Only Child, looking out over frozen musical tundra, "Their bodies close to freezing".

I bought this album on the strength of the songs from Desertshore I had heard on YouTube, having been led there by the CD's appearance on Steven Wilson's Best of 2012 list. I'll admit to not being at all familiar with TG's sound, so was not sure what to expect from the second CD in this set. The Final Report is a collection of parts recorded by Peter at his base in Thailand and also from the group's final sessions together in the UK 2009/10.

Experimental to the end, the results are always engaging. Stasis introduces itself over a looped industrial drum rhythm, topped off with synth patches, echoes and swoops; and so we enter a strange world where everything is not quite as it seems. As I said earlier, the cacophony is kept to a minimum, and what is left can be eerily spartan as on Breach or Kraftwerkian on Um Dum Dom right down to the robotic vocals.

A knowing smile greets the fact that the "bonus track" is in the middle of the album, but the track is called Trope which kind of explains it all. They're fond of marching, or in this case slightly lurching rhythms, and this piece is another example.

I was looking forward to the track Emerge To Space Jazz purely because of the title, and preceded by the shamanic and frightening Gordian Knot with its treated voices writhing through the mix, Emerge... has a synth beat that ebbs and flows, stopping suddenly, the cornet bleating lone notes across treated guitar strumming, flying off to the infinite beyond. As odd as I would have anticipated.

This is the kind of record you might want to play as a come down from Scott Walker's utterly fascinating but exhausting Bish Bosch. Not for the faint-hearted, but definitely rewarding.

Buy at Industrial Records

1. Janitor Of Lunacy (6:47)
2. Abschied (4:32)
3. Afraid (4:38)
4. The Falconer (6:04)
5. All That Is My Own (4:58)
6. Mütterlein (5:17)
7. Le Petit Chevalier (4:24)
8. My Only Child (5:16)
9. Desertshores (4:54)

The Final Report
1. Stasis (6:38)
2. E.H.S. (4:00)
3. Breach (5:04)
4. Um Dum Dom (2:03)
5. Trope (bonus track) (6:12)
6. What He Said (6:50)
7. In Accord (5:56)
8. Gordian Knot (3:55)
9. Emerge To Space Jazz (6:03)
10. The End (1:42)

Line up:
Chris Carter - rhythms, synthesisers, keyboards, radiophonics and special effects.
Peter "Sleazy" Christopherson - vocalisations, samples, Eowave Persephone, keyboards.
Cosi Fanni Tutti - vocalisation, guitars, bowed guitar, cornet, melodica, harmonica, percussion, keyboards.

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