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Whitehouse, "Racket"

cover imageSome 27 years into their notorious career, Whitehouse deserves credit for trying new things.  However, don't be mislead by cover artwork:  the difference between this and their last album is so small that this one could have probably been called Asceticists 2007.

 

Susan Lawly

Whitehouse - Racket

Being a Whitehouse "fan" can make for strange bedfellows.  In the realms of the avant garde, this admission can cause some people to pass judgment immediately, as they have always been a very polarizing band, most either love or hate them.  As one who does like them and has been a fan for a while, I would actually say that they have been on an upwards trend since Quality Time, each album growing a bit greater in depth and variety, and moving past the sophomoric lyrics of "I'm Coming Up Your Ass" that seemed to go so well with cheesy pornography and sticky peep booth floors.  The trend towards more psychoanalytic lyrics mixed alongside digital noise (not just the same old mangled Wasp synth from the '80s) have made each new album something I'd look forward to.  Which is why, in many ways, Racket is a let-down.

Coming only one year after the previous disc, Asceticists 2006, might have something to do with it.  There is no major jump thematically or stylistically between the two albums, and considering the sub 30 minute duration of both discs, it feels like a full length CD being sold as two separate works.  The most offensive musical link between the two is "Dumping More Fucking Rubbish," which is a simple re-recording of "Dumping The Fucking Rubbish" from Asceticists with a few extra lines.  It's not quite as blatant as rehashing "A Cunt Like You" for both Mummy and Daddy and Cruise, but it comes close.

Factoring that out, there are two compelling instrumental tracks. The sustained siren horns of "Fairground Muscle Twitcher" open the disc just somewhere between ambience and noise.  It's not as ear-shredding as most of their work, but it's not going to be heard in a new age shop anytime soon.  "The Avalanche" is much more subtle though, almost gentle bell like tones and crystalline rattles that is very out of the norm for this band.  The ending instrumental, "Bia Mintatu" amps the noise up a bit more, but not to chaotic levels:  bassy horn sounds over African percussion, with a bit of the old power electronics squeal towards the end.  William Bennett's fascination with Africa, beginning with the rumored self-created Extreme Music from Africa compilation is in full swing here.

This leaves three remaining tracks of "good ol'" Whitehouse, namely Philip Best and Bennett rambling over a harsh backing track.  Best takes center stage on the vocals for the most part, which is more effective in my opinion.  His angry rambling always seems to convey a better mood than Bennett's crazy cat lady caterwauling.  "Dyad" makes for the best example of this:  digitally manipulated djembe rhythms with both tag teaming the vocals with the best rage they could muster.

Racket is not a bad disc by any means; it just seems to follow too closely in its predecessor's footsteps to make it as instantly memorable as prior recent albums have been.  I suppose there is no easy way to balance this, because either there is more material released for the listeners that is not as individually notable, or there are long waiting periods between discs.  It most likely won't be nominated for any prestigious electronic arts awards this year, but it is still enjoyable, and does show their continuing mediating trend towards more conventional sounds.  A "conventional" Whitehouse album sounds absurd, but it may happen in our lifetimes.

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ILLUMINATI, "CDEP2"
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You'd be hard pushed to realise that samples from classical music form the core of the second Illuminati EP, as they've mostly been utterly distorted and pulverised beyond recognition. A middle aged electrician commented that this reminded him of Soft Machine which is odd because Dave Clarkson of Illuminati and Planetsounds is a big fan of theirs, but I'd never have thought it was something that sounded similar. When I mentioned the comparison to Dave he asked if it was the third track, "Glass Box Trap" which chucks a melodic keyboard jitter over thrumming double drone backbone, and a nasal voice muttering disgruntled and nebulous. If I was going to fling comparisons at Illuminati though I'd have to mention Throbbing Gristle, particularly "DOA," but I think I did that with the first EP. This one has the same picture on the cover, but inverted to negative and in some ways this a darker and more menacing trip. A deep singular pulse beat opens the strange door onto a microscope resolution for "Midget Germs" which vibrate ominously in hell spawned misery. Feedback screams and muffled moans punctuate this tortured cancerous eyeball injection. The poor germs don't stand a chance when "Argenteum Atavism" squirts beatnoise bleach all over them. Crunching along in hectic overloaded abandon, this is what it might sound like if Aphex Twin tried to put one over on Non. Just as the melody creeps in one final crash collapses into semi-ambient bleepscape gurgling. The fourth and final track swings "The Strange Door" shut and desperate knocking can be heard from outside as the germs shut outside slowly fizzle to their demise, and a new dawn of lush angelic keyboard bursts across the blackened sky. Distant thunder rumbles.

 

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