Fear of Men jangles, Falascone skronks
Fear of Men
Listening to the debut album Loom from the British trio Fear of Men is perhaps like eavesdropping on a confessional in a chilly cathedral—what’s being said is deeply personal, but there’s a cool formality to the situation and a degree of detachment.
It has touches of post-punk and indie jangle-pop, painted in greyscale or sculpted out of marble, and lead vocalist/guitarist Jessica Weiss sings matter-of-factly about emotional issues with an alabaster, blank prettiness, bringing to mind the demeanor of singer Alison Statton of Young Marble Giants and Weekend.
Following the laudable 2013 singles collection Early Fragments, Loom makes for a fine debut full-length with various themes infused in the songs, both aurally and lyrically. The trio of Weiss, guitarist Daniel Falvey and drummer Michael Miles is augmented by a string section, which ends several songs; as those tracks close, the strings are distorted and the sound is degraded, perhaps suggesting that things are ending badly in the album’s narrative.
This is taken to its extreme on the motorik-beat-enhanced “Tephra,” which makes the fuzzy strings experience sound disintegration, ending with white noise. Repeatedly, water-related images appear in the lyrics or the song title “Waterfall,” as if calling for some kind of cleansing or washing of the emotional turmoil.
Weiss’s lyrical torment is clear on “Luna,” with lines like “unbearable memories when I sleep” and “I’ve tried my best to destroy you,” with a guitar mirroring the vocal melody. Sometimes the vocals on “Inside” sound like they were recorded in a closet, suggesting claustrophobia, while other parts sound more spacious; being the album’s longest track, it has time to stretch its arms, building to a swirling maelstrom and abruptly cutting off at its conclusion.
Throughout the album, there are serene chord progressions, gorgeous harmonizing and drum outbursts that punch more than expected from a pop group, and its denouement on the calm, nearly pastoral “Atla,” with vocals and a nylon-stringed guitar, offers the line “You don’t disgust me anymore,” a peculiar upturn on an excellent album that confides its troubled internal conflict within a charged, kinetic jangle-pop shell.
The new album, Variazioni Mumacs, from the sound sculptor Massimo Falascone based in Milan, Italy, is subtitled “32 short mu-pieces about macs,” which is a reference to the film anthology Thirty Two Short Films About Glenn Gould, which itself is a reference to Bach’s Goldberg Variations (most famously tackled by Gould on piano) which featured, yes, 32 pieces (opening and closing arias plus 30 variations).
It is unclear what exactly is a “mu-piece” or a “mac” or a “mumac,” although MUMAC is apparently a museum in Milan devoted to the espresso machine. From what this writer can tell, this album is not about coffee, nor about Bach. Although it covers a lot of ground, it is never entirely clear what it’s about or trying to accomplish, but if the listener can get past this inscrutability, then it makes for a fascinating, strange experience, particularly when heard through headphones.
Falascone straddles the very different realms of improvisation (both jazz-inflected and free improv) and heavily edited and tweaked electro-acoustic music, where studio and recording equipment are used as instruments.
The liner notes state that “all instrumental contributions are improvised,” and Falascone employs over a dozen guest artists and vocalists, from jazz musicians, to spoken word artists including Bob Marsh (who contributes the album’s lyrics) and even children. Falascone himself offers uninhibited sax playing and synthetic treatments, with a multitude of field recordings and sound samples.
It’s an album of a million different moments that, defying all logic, does not completely fall apart. There are ambient tones, the sound of a typewriter, a recording of a woman practicing vocal scales with a piano, laughter, cello string scampers, squeaks, hisses, vaguely industrial sounds, violin fits and starts, sliced and diced vocal weirdness, skronks, rumbles and countless other sounds. Inexplicably, there’s also a cover of Thelonious Monk’s “Light Blue” on sax with clarinet counterpoint weaving in and out of abstraction.
The album is a glorious, ambitious mess, sure, but it doesn’t repel; instead, its mysterious sound universe featuring the real and unreal pulls the listener in closely.