Review Summary: This one doesn’t beg; it demands to be heard.
Current 93 is the type of band that alienates its listeners, and continues to be an enigma. David Tibet’s eclectic project isn’t really predictable. From roots in industrial and pioneering albums of dense neofolk, he fills his audiences with morbid fascination and the knowledge of what will come next is lost. Throughout a monstrously intimidating discography, it’s not easy to decipher what Current 93 is about, but oftentimes the music borders on beauty and horror. Once again Current 93, in their 2014 album, I Am the Last of All the Field that Fell: A Channel
, delivers an ever-lingering and unsaid promise that you’re not going to predict their game plan. Ever.
I Am the Last of All the Field that Fell
turns any preconception of Current 93’s sound on its head. What’s presented to the listener is a slab of avant-garde styled jazz--oftentimes minimalistic in sound but complex in structure. It still holds an essence of ghoulish neofolk within its tangled webs of thick, dripping and utterly engrossing compositions, almost unable to be pinned down by strict definition. The most notable presence in this release is John Zorn, another prolific pariah of music, performing saxophone. His contributions range anywhere from accessible and gorgeous harmonies to a jazz-hammer crash of caterwauling freeform perversions.
The opening track, ‘The Invisible Church’, perfectly displays the album’s split personality. It’s a darkly melodious piano composition accompanied by Tibet’s unnerving vocals and Tony McPhee’s off-kilter acoustic guitar pluckings dancing along in a lugubrious fashion. At the same time, Jon Seagroatt’s bass clarinet is low and conservative. As a whole, every little contribution seems minimalised. The drums play the same simple pattern made to accentuate the piano. The piano drones on with the same melody, and the guitar is there, but does not encroach on the piano. The guitar only adds enough so you know it’s there, and makes sure you can hear how wrong it sounds. The way all the minimalistic instrumentals are styled create a deeply complex and harrowingly intense experience, and it is something that needs to be heard to fully understand. It’s in this way that a lot of the album gains its “charm” and momentum. It doesn’t rely on bold crescendos and tell-tale climaxes, but instead builds atmosphere and more satisfying climaxes through subtlety and precise placement of specific sounds. Tibet’s vocal dynamics range from harsh whispers to almost obscene yelling in between more controlled and substantial crooning. Most of the time, just hearing his voice gives the listener chills.
A track that really displays the album’s use of truly frightening subtlety is ‘Kings and Things’. The song is primarily piano-composed and is truly stunning. Tibet practically talks his prose while the angelic Bobbie Watson (of Comus fame) sings in small bursts behind him. In the distance, you hear an extremely low but lingering noise, which you know is far away, but promises to come. And that is the true magic of the song--it’s the simple kind of claustrophobic fear that comes over you as this wailing train of electric noise draws closer and closer. The sound may be off in the distance, but you know it’s going to come hit you. It gets louder and closer, but instead of completely hitting you, the noise just circles around the music, dipping in and out, but still making you aware of its existence and disturbing cacophony. Other guest artists on the album bring the experience full-circle and make it worthwhile. Antony performs his theatrical vocals on ‘Mourned Winter Then’ and it marks the track as one of the album’s highlights. Nick Cave once again lends his voice to Current 93 on the closing track ‘I Could Not Shift the Shadow’. Maybe it’s just my inner Nick Cave fanboy talking, but the album couldn’t have ended on a more perfect note. Cave’s swelling and all-encompassing vocals utterly destroy the listener and leave them content. Finally, as the album closes, Zorn’s saxophone creates the perfect exit melody.
Perhaps one of the most cohesive and completely gelled albums I’ve heard in recent times, I Am the Last of All the Field that Fell
, isn’t just one of the best albums of 2014, but may quite possibly be Current 93’s crowning achievement within a monolithic catalogue of experimental classics. It doesn’t just border the line of beauty and horror; it crosses the line many times, while dancing back and forth. Yet, it is a majestically stable listen. Despite all its terrorising tensions and lax heavenliness, it maintains a careful cohesion that’s hard to imagine. From sweetly dark jazz/folk tracks to avant-garde jazz-fusion and jazz rock and every other little sound cemented between the cracks, Current 93 has redefined its sound once more, and delivers a deep, satisfying and complex musical experience. This one doesn’t beg; it demands to be heard.