Review Summary: For Tomorrow: A Guide to Contemporary British Music, 1988-2013 (Part 45)
Once the first decade of our new millennium has been firmly canonized, it may be remembered as the decade of urgency. In stark contrast to the more lackadaisical 90s - with it’s slacker generation and stable economy - the 2000’s was the period where everything started happening right now
. We’re under threat of a terrorist attack right now
. The economy might take another nosedive right now
. All music is free right now
. A gunman might burst into your workplace and murder everyone right now
. You can communicate with anyone on the planet right now
. Everyone knows everything about you right now
. There is no going off the grid anymore. Your location can be determined right now
Primal Scream’s Screamadelica
was released right at the top of the 90s and serves as a singular snapshot of an “I’m free, you’re free” decade. It was a defining statement by a band that desperately needed to make one. Following 94’s craptacular Give Out But Don’t Give Up
came 97’s Vanishing Point
, a fascinatingly cinematic album that I am still kicking myself for not reviewing. But Vanishing Point
was too wispy to be definitive, the band was in need of another statement.
, released in the first month of 2000, has not aged a day. Many of it’s lyrics - “Exterminate the underclass”, “Military industrial illusion of democracy”, “Rain down fire on everyone, scabs, police, and government thieves” - sound ripped straight from Occupy protest signs. Its melting pot of genres as disparate as free jazz, acid house, and protopunk now feels contemporary. And it is very, very right now
. The record crackling with a palpable sense of urgency as Bobby Gillespie expresses himself with little in the way of cohesiveness or editing. It’s as envelope pushing as an album from 2000 could be without sounding stapled to an era, one that tosses everything loud it can get it’s hands on into a blender and hits “apocalypse”.
Much of XTRMNTR
’s glorious noise can be attributed to the contributions of Kevin Shields. Yes, that Kevin Shields. He shows up to shred heaven and hell on the 4 minute adrenaline needle plunger depress of “Accelerator”. “Come on! COME ON! HIT THE ACCELERATOR!” begs Gillespie but with Shields channeling Ron Asheton, feedback cracking speaker cones, it sounds like the throttle is already quite matted. The guitars on “Exterminator” and “Insect Royalty” are more akin to radars gone haywire or urgent SOS telegraphs than notes and phrases while “MBV Arkestra (If They Move Kill Them)” lives up to it’s title as Shields shades dense sheets of noise off his guitar, but instead of floating over the blissful squall of a My Bloody Valentine song it’s whirling like helicopter blades over a crowded market district in downtown Cairo. Underpinning all of this are drums. Glorious drums. See, the key to XTMNTR
’s end of the world chic is you’re supposed to dance to it. “Swastika Eyes” makes especially good on this by building groove and momentum for half it’s runtime before unleashing a frenetic house groove and nearly toppling the whole thing over. “Insect Royalty” wields cracking breakbeats beneath pounded sewer pipes resembling melody. It’s not all panic and mayhem, “Keep Your Dreams” provides a necessary reprise at the halfway point with a gentle lullaby warning of a “starkest ice age, you will rust/time will turn your bones to dust/alchemist turn lead to gold/keep your dreams, don't sell your soul”. The triumphant grand finale “Shoot Speed/Kill Light” (which features the guitar work of none other than Bernard Sumner) sounds like the morning after the revolution, the sun rising on a new regime.
Conducting all of this is Bobby Gillespie. His lyrics are perched at the opposite end of Screamadelica
’s love-and-pills message this time, but their use is more blunt impact than anything particularly deep. “You got the money, I got the soul” he repeats on opener “Kill All Hippies”. On “Exterminator” he’s a street corner madman, raving about “Gun metal skies” and “Incubating ultra-violent, psychic distortions”. At it’s worst, Gillespie’s observations can border on college freshman (See: the awkward half-rap “Pills”) but they’re never obtrusive enough to ruin the vibe. In fact, Gillespie’s lyrics sound better in retrospect, 140 character bursts from some demented pre-Twitter account. “No civil disobedience” goes one refrain, “Insect royalty, living inside of me” goes another.
, Primal Scream joined the lineage of bands like Gang of Four and Wire, bands that understood a critical (and critically ignored) fact about mixing politics and music. Move the body, then the mind. The groove comes first, the sloganeering comes second. By understanding this, the nonspecific political rants of XTRMNTR
hit with significant force. In XTRMNTR
’s world, eyes are everywhere, a guitar is a rifle, a drum machine is a tactical advantage, and the trashiest drum kit can annihilate the mightiest tank. Released on January 31st, it’s the soundtrack to your decade. Welcome to the 2000’s, prepare to choose sides.