Jack Barnett: organ, sound design and voices; James Blackshaw: bass; Ossian Brown: hurdy-gurdy and sidereal SingSong; Nick Cave: voice and voices; Antony Hegarty: voice and voices; Reinier Van Houdt: piano; Norbert Kox: voices; Andrew Liles: electric channel; Tony McPhee: acoustic and electric guitar; Jon Seagroatt: bass clarinet and flute; Carl Stokes: drums and percussion; David Tibet: voice and void; Bobbie Watson: voices; John Zorn: saxophone
Whoever had the bad luck of meeting me in the flesh knows as a sure fact that I’m not likely to remain trapped in cults. Italy is chock full of characterless characters who attend concerts by, say, Diamanda Galas clothed and face-painted like her, or identify in a given icon – say, Cure’s Robert Smith – to the point of impersonating pathetic clones of the same. You get the picture. When talking Nurse With Wound or Current 93 around here, it’s very probable that one is going to have to deal with relatively intoxicated post-office and ministry employees, who got those much-desired jobs thanks to dad’s almighty acquaintances but keep playing the role of misunderstood maudit geniuses as pitiful replicas of dark icons such as Steven Stapleton and David Tibet.
With the latter, your distrustful chatterbox shares a birthday and extremely warm feelings for cats; this implies seriousness. Just kidding of course. Nonetheless, whenever reviews of Current 93’s albums are examined a measure of healthy laughing is granted. All over the large part of the Italian press, mindless idolization dressed with language directly influenced by what Tibet says – not understood – during his ominous outbursts (recently collected in a hefty volume, reportedly sold out). By taking a look at Wire‘s customarily superficial writeup, what you “learn” about this record is that its atmospheres are “faintly jazzy” (not true, but hey – there are saxophones in there, so it must have to do with jazz; All Music agrees. I’ll hide somewhere…) and that the highest pinnacle is reached when Antony Hegarty sings “Mourned Winter Then”. Expected, but also untruthful: the track is not in my own top eight (of eleven). Perhaps it’s an oasis of sorts for that particular writer to finally clutch at something familiar amidst barely endured apocalyptic declamations and convulsive crescendos. The latter characteristics are, contrariwise, practically derided on Pitchfork. The lingering sensation is that of a great number of analysts missing important elements, or stopping themselves at an ankle-deep investigation mostly dictated by personal negativeness or out-and-out necessities.
Make no mistake: this album is grand. For this reviewer, almost a desert island disc. There are four tracks that originate genuine goosebumps, namely “Those Flowers Grew”, “And Onto PickNickMagick”, “Why Did The Fox Bark” and “Spring Sand Dreamt Larks”. Throughout the “channel”, perpetually growing tensions reach near-unbearable levels when Tibet explodes in his most theatrically virulent prophetical threats: you can literally sense the foam at the corners of his mouth as he conjures up images of sitting serpents, pyramid eyes, obscure geometries and ghosts – either of Gary Glitter, or screaming on the phone. From a merely instrumental angle of observation, Van Houdt’s piano is the main axis: an omnipresent accompaniment suitable to some kind of silent movie from ancient eras but still imbued with romantic classicism and, in a way, minimal logicality. Those 9/8 arpeggios in “With The Dromedaries” are a touch of fineness that not many will notice. Zorn – another essential figure whose cult I do not adhere to, still respecting his abilities completely – emits cries so desperate that my stomach got knifed at least twice. The last I recall from him at this grade of strength was on Fred Frith’s The Technology Of Tears.
One may or may not respect what these visions are grounded upon. As an unrepentant non-believer (currently studying to get a master in clever-and-over-averageness) you can anticipate a not exactly spiritually tinged welcome to the lyrics. Yet Tibet is definitely recognizable as a veritable artist, not a bullshit seller for a “credulous fanbase” (quoting Wire yet again). There are decades of earnest studies behind those writings, and if the man wants to use this manner of speaking to explicate what he’s affected by, it’s as valuable as Ornette Coleman choosing to scream his lungs harmolodically instead of following the rules set by a standard. Even if you don’t buy into the prophecies, get lost in this gathering of nightmarish tides with rare moments of respite, a wholeness made richer by the indisputable bravura of the entire cast. Each component works sublimely, Tibet fervently directs the scenes, often bordering on the insane. The sonic assemblage “transmits” rather than “teach”. And those black ships might really start eating the sky after all; if the soundtrack is so good, we could decide to book a front row seat for the ultimate act.