Nurse With WoundAngry Eelectric Finger (Spitch'cock One)
Released 2004 on United Dairies
Reviewed by Serotonin, 19/04/2004ce
The official advance blurb for the 'Spitch'cock One' CD ran thus: "It's a remarkable mixture of industrial and avant garde pop styles featuring Sonic Youth's Jim O'Rourke, ex-Coil sound twisters Cyclobe, krautrock legends Xhol Caravan and San Francisco's weirdest pop combo Irr App (ext). Each artist has collaborated with Nurse With Wound's Steven Stapleton to create a four part suite of alarming freshness and originality."
On the disc's sleeve is the tantalising explanation that 'Spitch'cock One' represents "a selection that may or may not be included on the forthcoming 3 disc set Angry Eelectric Finger". Hopefully the Xhol Caravan contribution will turn up on parts 2 or 3 then, or at least the box set, as it's the only collaboration listed in the above blurb that's missing here. 'Spitch'cock One', then, is a 45 minute introduction to the grand project, comprising a pure NWW track, the Cyclobe interpretation, the Irr. App. (Ext.) interpretation, rounded off with Jim O' Rourke's version of the raw material.
Each of the disc's four tracks lasts approximately 11 minutes; this album would fit snugly on vinyl. Kudos then to Stapleton, for keeping things concise here. And his editing and arranging of the interpretations he received has blended this disc into a stylistically coherent whole, the resultant album sounding rich in sonic detail and dark, ominous atmospherics throughout. NWW fans rejoice: this a stellar, blinding brain-melter of rich, twisted electronics easily on the same plain as recent albums like Man With The Woman Face and An Awkward Pause, and one which is even worthy to be spoken of in the same breath as the mighty Thunder Perfect Mind. Yup, it's that good. On to the music then.
1) NURSE WITH WOUND - ROOT CANAL SPLINTER (PENETRATION MIX) (11:16)
This first track, unlike the others, is credited solely to NWW, and is thus presumably an extract from the original work which Stapleton dispatched to his collaborators. It starts the album very softly, with a solemn, woozy organ loop which sets a calming, relaxing tone. So, on first listen, I accordingly slumped back on the sofa, eyes closed, to enjoy it.
And then, about 20 seconds later, jumped out of my skin... in the annals of deceptively calm starts to a piece of music, this is a classic: Haydn, whose "Surprise Symphony"was designed to jolt snoozing audiences awake, would be proud. For just as you've settled into this calm, minimalist loop, everything goes a bit Kraftwerk 2 Side 2, and does so suddenly and loudly. Varispeed tapes of downtuned guitar (or some instrument) are reversed and manipulated all over the place. The image put in my mind was of someone destroying an alarm clock with a hammer, springs and coils snapping and popping. Gradually, various cymbal crashes and other percussion enter the fray, and it's on this sparse rhythmic bed that the track begins to gather momentum. A very Joujouka-esque electronic squiggle snakes across the mix, along with more tape loops, gunshots, bangs and crashes and swathes of dark synth (think of the opening moments of 'Colder Still' from Thunder Perfect Mind, a track I'll be referring to a few times during this review.) This chaotic ensemble builds and builds, and then fades away, leaving you in no doubt that you've just witnessed one of the grandest Stapleton mindfucks in years. But can the rest of the album stand up to such a strong start?
2) CYCLOBE/NWW - PARAPARAPARALLELOGRAMMATICA (12:07)
Cyclobe are Simon Norris and Steven Thrower, two former Coil members who've released a couple of their own mind-bending records in the last few years. And the NWW material here that they've been let loose on certainly has a bit of a sinister-ambient Coily feel, as a queasy, ominous synth swirl sets the tone for this track. Various whines and drones whizz by your ears until some organ chords briefly hint at a calm in proceedings, before the 'sinister ambience', racked up to the nth degree, crashes back in. A whirring tone appears, signalling a fade in the whole track.
The second half of the piece is introduced by more becalmed organ and whistling electronics, before we're sucked back into the blackness once more, where early kosmiche Tangerine Dream meets Cluster '71 in the darkest reaches of a black hole somewhere around Alpha Centauri. The organ briefly shines through the darkness, eventually we're landed back on earth and the track ends on calm harmonium and sparse electronics, bringing welcome relief. Anyone owning the (reissued) Thunder Perfect Mind CD will call to mind not only the similarly dark psychedelics of 'Colder Still', but the "sorry Steve, I had a bad trip" answerphone message hidden away at the end of the CD...
3) IRR. APP. (EXT.)/ NWW - MUTE BELL EXTINCTION PROCESS (10:29)
So then, does the second half of 'Spitch'cock One' measure up to the synapse-frying first pair of tracks? The short answer is, hmm, not quite, but there's still enough detail and atmospherics to satisfy on this track, interpreted by "San Francisco's weirdest pop combo" Irr. App. (Ext.). Manipulated alien vocal chatter is introduced alongside a single, ominous synth chord, like a muffled, funereal bell, which carries most of this track. A noise like a broken spring or a stick down a washboard pans from side to side alongside various other subtle, mechanical noises. Eventually a chugging, misfiring engine is in there too. 'Cold' from Thunder Perfect Mind (yup, again) comes to mind. All of this gradually fades like a receding storm, with some distant bird-calls in there too. This track can't help but feel like the weakest on the album, as it has the least texture and variety, and that washboard sound can become VERY IRRITATING on headphones, but its sustained dark ambience fits snugly into the overall feel of the album, making it stronger as part of the whole experience.
I promise not to use the words 'ominous', 'sinister' and 'dark' any more in this review, fitting as they are to almost every aspect of the music here. Suppose they're not as essential to the lighter and more organic fourth part to the disc though...
4) JIM O'ROURKE/NWW - TAPE MONKEY MOOCH (10:57)
On to Jim O'Rourke's contribution to Stapleton's material, then, and we're neatly introduced to a reprise of the organ loop that opened the album. Various found-sounds surround it this time, giving it a bit of a Spiral Insana feel. Disembodied glockenspiel chimes float over the top, and the background gradually fleshes out with various creaks and moans. Eventually, a large electronic drone loop appears, not unlike the one that opened the first Faust album. Clanks, hisses and even a taped game of table tennis is in there in the background. The drone gets louder, subsides, and then the whole track fades. In comes that washboard/spring noise again, and the organ motif is there too to take us to the end of the track. The background noises build up again, more abraisively, and then fade to let the album end as it began, with the organ motif gently fading from view. This whole track, as mentioned above, brings the album down to a much lighter, airier and understated close compared to the dense electronic visions of the abyss earlier on. And then you put it back to the start again, to here NWW's most satisfying, sumptuous electronic masterpiece for years. I can't wait for the second part of the project.