Wednesday, December 28, 2011

This Heat - Deceit

It's clear from the get-go that Deceit displays some very apparent differences from the group's debut of fractured tape collage and dark, noisy and mostly instrumental rock.  Indeed, with Deceit, This Heat presents us with an album of songs, jumping from one stylistic experiment to another, sometimes with only the thread of bold adventurousness to connect the two--needless to say, I'm into it.

Deceit is an album where the Eastern harmonies and droning dream rock of an opener like "Sleep" can and do sit immediately and comfortably adjacent to a 6-minute experimental rock (comparative) epic like "Paper Hats."  The latter is one of the album's grandest statements, blending punk-direct, Frith-like guitars (drummer Charles Hayward would later join a re-formed lineup of Massacre) with a hypnotically flowing structure and some really cool production techniques (check out how the riff simultaneously slows down and the miking shifts from direct to ambient room sound around the five minute mark).  The tension between pop instincts and crazy experimentalism is constantly present here, rearing its head when the shambling victory march and strained harmony of "Triumph" gives way to the upbeat post-punk of "S.P.Q.R.," which ironically lists the virtues of the Roman empire, allowing the listener to draw any desired connections to modern nation-states.  Then, only a couple of songs later the group is onto something completely forward-looking with "Shrink Wrap's" pounding tribal beats sounding like some sort of mutant precursor to M.I.A. 

Of the modest number of post-punk cornerstones with which I've become acquainted, this one seems to fuse punk's do-it-yourself spirit with an ambitious avant-garde mission best.  It's funny--saying "I don't know how to play guitar, but I'm going to pick one up anyway and bang out 3-chord rock because I'm PISSED OFF!" is one thing, but picking up the same gauntlet only to throw it down for a purpose this complex and challenging is another thing entirely.  Not that the group is completely untrained, but listening to the dense vocal arrangements of a song like "Cenotaph," it's clear that This Heat doesn't really possess a strong lead vocalist, but that doesn't stop them from crafting multi-part harmonies that slide between consonance and dissonance with liquidity.  Where there's a will, there's a way, and the fact that the power of This Heat's will far outweighs their vocal limits means we get to hear the working-class accents and unruly sneer of classic punk rock over a much more sonically adventurous framework. 

If there's a common thread that prevents Deceit from sounding like a confused mess when the songs jump from filthy lo-fi punk (the end of "Makeshift Swahili") to the Eastern folk rock and brilliantly sarcastic use of historical-text-as-lyrics in "Independence," it's got to be the group's seething rage.  Yes, Deceit is an extremely political album, often focusing on the fundamentals of injustice rather than the contemporary specifics of injustice (the recipe for timelessness, if you ask me).  The epic scope of the group's experimental palette only serves to make their vision of modern governmental oppression even more nightmarish, though their angst does occasionally come across as an anguished howl into the wind.  While not every track blends the group's sonic purpose with song form ("Radio Prague" and "Hi Baku Shyo" are pretty much straight-up collage/tape experiments), Deceit is likely to satisfy fans of both post-punk, modern experimental rock, and even 70's progressive rock and Rock In Opposition for its satisfying blend of energy, composition and musicianship, not to mention a wealth of ideas that regularly manage to outstrip the similar sounds the group's contemporaries were making.  It's easy to see why this album is still hailed as a mainstay of the original post-punk scene.

Get it here.

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