I had written stories to conclude my previous art book projects. So let’s pretend to do the same to the most recently finished one, by actually writing about Andy Stott – Faith in Strangers. I could do so merely because of the cover art, which is a photo of one of Modigliani’s female head sculptures, even though my actual execution involved only paintings. When I first skim-listened (because New Romantic in another album of his sounds nice), which happened before the project, I wasn’t particularly impressed. One day, after I finished the project, I went to Andy Stott’s page again to renew my subscription to New Romantic – the two events were unrelated. Suddenly that elongated face that I lately became familiar with caught my attention. Though this particular one isn’t featured on the art book.
So I tapped in and gave it a second listen. I don’t remember if I got to my present day level of appreciation of these sounds precisely on that day, or if my turning from disinterested to infatuated was because of the realization of who made the album cover sculpture. At any rate, since then I have been drawn into this record deeper. And it reveals additional connections to Modigliani’s sculpture works: the sound palette is heavy, colossal in size, much like the African art inspired bulky legs and bodies of the caryatids; saturated, grainy in texture, just like the surface of the stone material that Modigliani worked with. The opening Time Away pretty much has them both – as if the deep and long lasting calls resounded through pre-historic time to this very moment. A third connection, there is the wonderful female vocal appearing throughout the album; unlike every other heavily processed sound, it is mostly left untouched, embodying the pristine femininity exuding from the outward roughness of the stone work… I’m probably connecting dots that never exist… So much for a clearing of the throat then.
I can very well relate why Violence is one of the hottest hits. In between the fragile, unstable, volatile singing inside a pitch-black room that is occasionally pierced by a flicker outside the window, the two grave, massive outbursts work like a slaughter machine, swallowing and grinding all your sick, deranged, and misanthropic substance to produce a gigantic organism of emptiness.
Just noticed in On Oath, between the musical sentences played by the first woodwind-like layer, the blank is filled with some faint humming of a rotating mechanism, which actually is also the last sound heard in the end. This and the previous reference to machines are enough to evoke that industrial gloom that prevails Eraserhead that I recently watched, leading properly to Science & Industry, a nice rise in tempo structurally
Normally I do not agree with associating science with the mechanical and faceless advancement of industry. But right now I am willing to accept this viewpoint for art’s sake. In fact, it is a slightly perverted beauty I found in this “industrial gloom”. Not the mathematical beauty of theoreticians, or the complex construct beauty of engineers, but that innocent infant with a menacing grin conceived by the monotonous, droning, suffocating, unnatural ambiance, which in the Lynchian world and popular culture is possibly intended as a motif symbolizing anti-human ugliness*. The singing here against the backdrop of smokestack cities is the freest, both in expression and in spirit. Carelessly uttered words “Prison lights”, undershooting notes “My heaven is in motion”, unguarded evaporation of voices “Who enlightened you“. And then she chuckles, disappears at the corner of the street, reappears floating near the pipelines high up, endless teasing. You will never find anywhere else a ghostly hide-and-seek like this with a girl in a white night dress. It may sound banal to use the word dark but, only here, in the colorful darkness.
I have just depicted at length the favorite kid on the block. But the flow hardly ends here; it further intensifies to a modulated crisis; then gives way to ritualistic clapping and drumming; the alarm joins again to evolve into an extremely jagged and noisy crumpled paper ball of No Surrender.
Equally nice is the relapse into a slowed-down, regularized, stable oscillation of How It Was. The incorporation of heavy breathing sounds into the beat loop gives it a unique connotation of friction and drag, like the energy consuming locomotion of that eternally exhausted and at the same time easily merry youngest son in La Dolce Vita. Yet the huge throbbing blob, whose advent is signaled by Skidmore’s non-Euclidean voice, makes it all so groovy and keeps my brain sloshing inside my skull.
Again lulled by some soft DC noise, the motion subsides. Just as I was predisposed to cast my long blank stare at nothing in particular, Damage quickly turns to weighty beat work that marches on almost senselessly. But DC being DC, it’s constantly there, permeates and surrounds whenever a gap appears.
I’m not especially against the title track. It’s fine on its own and has a more justifiable place in the context of moderating the entire album. It only sort of offends me when it becomes the top hit**. But it’s fine.
Following this strangely positive episode, it reaches a painless conclusion in an uneventful manner of Missing. Uneventful as opposed to a fanfare – the contrabass(-like) character sounds as if experiencing some minor jostle in an entangled dream though.