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Kevin Tomkins, "Perfectly Flawed"

cover imageKevin Tomkins is probably always going to be known for his tenure in the early (and some would say best) incarnation of Whitehouse, closely followed by his power electronics project Sutcliffe Jugend and the rock-oriented Bodychoke.  This first solo outing from him completely defies expectations, being based only on sounds generated by an autoharp.


Between Silences

For such a simple concept, the tracks rarely resemble each other and are based less on the "playing" of the instrument and much more on using every facet of it as a means of generating sound and textures.  Only on "Fifth Flaw" and the closing "Twelfth Flaw" is traditional playing the focus, and even within those there is a fair share of abstract clatters and vibrations, the latter being front-loaded with a dense set of sounds, but closing into pure and beautiful tones.  "Eighth Flaw" takes the strums and instead messes with the tunings, allowing the loosened strings to rattle and create their own sense of percussion.

The percussive applications of the autoharp are spread throughout the album, sometimes being untreated, but consisting of what must be items bounced on the strings, such as the opening "First Flaw," which adds in extremely quiet swelling tones to balance out.  "Ninth Flaw" marries the percussive treatment of the instrument with some Eastern-like string plucks. It is a continuous, collage-like piece that is almost too abstract for its own good, never really locking in to a specific sense of structure or cohesion.  The too short "Fourth Flaw" is perhaps the only track where editing and sequencing seems to be a dominant theme, cutting the sounds of plucks and vibrations into a tightly mixed piece that resembles what would be labeled electronica if it was coming out of a laptop or sampler.

The longer "Sixth Flaw" is perhaps the best piece here, and is nicely sequenced right in the center of the album.  The layers of autoharp are shaped into insect chatters, tribal percussion elements, and an array of disorienting tones that would make the perfect soundtrack to going up a river into a dark jungle.  The following "Seventh Flaw" continues the jungle motif, autoharp being used as a gamelan, and occasionally l ike a fiddle, possibly moving the river metaphor from before out of Africa or Asia and into some of the less settled parts of the American South.

For an album that is focused solely on the use of one instrument, Tomkins has used what sounds more like old fashion experimentation more than technological processing, yet for the most part channels the creaks, groans, and vibrations of an autoharp into diverse and varied compositions.  While it lacks the brutality and aggression of his other projects, it retains the structure and composition that set Sutcliffe Jugend apart from many similar noise bands.



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Review of the Day

Beta-Lactam Ring
For the mere pittance of $4.00, Beta-Lactam Ring Records is offering the latest in its Beta-Beat Sampler series. Where previous volumes were quick-and-dirty, minimally packaged releases compiling and excerpting new and upcoming music on the label, Death's Last Life's Breath comes in a printed sleeve, and includes a brand new Nurse With Wound track exclusive to this compilation. And it's no mere fragmentary outtake meant to entice the unwary consumer, but an epic 15-minute fantasia of unhinged Stapletonian whimsy. "A Wasted Life of Phagocyte Foot Fetishism" plays like an extended, free-associating riff on the Space Age Bachelor Pad music for which Stapleton has always professed his affection. The track goes everywhere, of course, from a concert hall full of toy xylophones to sudden explosions of tabla rhythms, eventually floating up to a dense cloud bank of gently shimmering keyboards. If this were the only worthwhile track on Death's Last Life's Breath, it would still be more than worth the price of admission. Luckily, the rest of the nearly 80-minute disc is chock full of the kind of ear-opening sonic exploration I've come to expect from the Beta-Lactam label, from the lysergic folk of Japan's Green Milk From the Planet Orange to the eclectic, post-Prog collages of art-rock legends La STPO. Whitelodge's "Masters Within Spaces," excerpted from their soon-to-be-released debut, adds a level of post-rock sophistication to the melancholic, apocalyptic themes explored by esoteric mainstays Current 93 and Death in June. Judging by the distortion-blasted electro groove of "Comedown," Edward Ka-Spel's new Pieces of 8 promises to be his best in years. Matt Waldron's project continues to find new non-corporeal identities in the labyrinthine inner workings of memory and synchronicity, on full display in a truly unsettling excerpt from the forthcoming Perekluchenie album. Beequeen's "I'm Searching For Field Character" is a perfectly mysterious concoction of drones, dialogue samples and all manner of indescribable textures. It came down to two choices this week: feed and clothe my Somalian sponsor kid for another month, or use my loose pocket change to buy Death's Last Life's Breath. Sorry about the lack of clean drinking water, N'Dugu, but I'll be happy to burn you a copy of this CD.


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