Ensemble Pittoresque
For This Is Past


4.5
superb

Review

by Jacquibim STAFF
November 26th, 2015 | 40 replies


Release Date: 1983 | Tracklist


However much we’re encouraged to separate a piece of art from the context of its creation, there are some works for which this is just impossible. Though it has retained a following that is modest yet enthusiastic, Ensemble Pittoresque’s debut album For This is Past is not timeless in any way, shape or form. It is prototypically ’80s – a remark that would otherwise send up a red flag for a millennial such as myself. But this album reflects a darker element to this period that is all but obscured by garish stereotypes. After all, the early ‘80s were a turbulent time, what with economic strife not felt since The Depression and the looming threat of nuclear warfare, exacerbated by an increasingly sensationalist media. The natural consequences of this were anarchistic teenagers and jaded, cynical twenty-somethings like our subjects here. While the former demographic would opt for a more crass approach, Ensemble Pittoresque were perhaps a little too wise to reality, and in 1983 produced one of the most chilling reflections of its respective era.

Stylistically, For This is Past represents a time in which the human touch was in competition with newly affordable, “space-aged” electronic gismos. Synthesisers, tape loops and drum machines seldom complimented arrangements and instead formed the crux of them, leading to the false perception that the role of people in art and music was becoming secondary. For This is Past, even with all the painstaking effort that was evidently poured into it, feels frigid and devoid of emotion. Richard Neumöller’s vocal style is about as deadpan as one can imagine. Combined with the bitter lyrics, grainy samples and minimalistic, glacial instrumentation, they work to create one of the most haunting yet curiously alluring atmospheres you’re likely to encounter. The opener “Better Life’s” consists of a simple kick-snare pattern with subtle hi-hat accents, plodding bass work and a solitary guitar line which has been heavily filtered in post-production. But something is just off. The lingering synth pads feel like a monophonic recording etched to magnetic tape that has warped over time, rendering the sound uneven to the point where it becomes unignorably bothersome.

This kind of vexing nuance pervades just about every track, baiting your sense of curiosity and compelling you to pay more attention than you may realise. However, attentiveness may not necessarily provide closure, as Neumöller’s lyrics can be vague and cryptic. “Living with a mental strike is like flying around the bulb / expecting the escaping days in all the frequent frenzy ways” opens “The Art of Being”, for example. On its own, it’s a pretty clear cut metaphor in that he feels like a bug chasing what it thinks to be the moon, but how this ties into “concrete phrases of fishermen” and “copper mud[ding] the bloodstream vessel” I haven’t a clue. Fortunately, other cuts are much more straightforward. “Artificials” is a scathing number about conformity and conservatism in art, which in itself is emblematic of the cold wave revolt at the time. “Lovesong” is certainly not a love song. If anything, it’s a cynical jab at the idea of having to be thankful for so little. The line “I don’t like Thanksgiving / give me a living” could well be a statement for those left destitute during the worst of the recession, or it could just be contemptuous rambling. Who Knows?

Neumöller’s apathetic, bone-dry poetry has its place, obviously. For This is Past wouldn’t be complete without it, but the age-old saying about a picture being worth a thousand words rings especially true here. Some of the most illustrative tracks on the album are those without words, relying entirely on their sonic make-up to forge a mental image. “Auditorium” is a sombre tune that makes extensive use of a gritty choral snippet, tonally deformed in a similar fashion to the synths on the aforementioned “Better Life’s”. Though open to interpretation, there is a theistic vibe to the track - a sense of a detachment. “Reichsdorf Room 6” is likewise nihilistic, but in a much more relatable sense. Machines buzz, grind, creak and clatter in a percussive embrace with a melancholy work tune, whistled in conjunction to depressive analogue synth lines. It paints the picture of a sweltering steel mill, as workers’ overalls and faces are blackened by carcinogenic soot. There is no chance for advancement – you’re a faceless, carbon-based appliance, fated to slave away until the day you are affluent enough to retire, but too broken to enjoy your own spoils.

This was the reality for many in the early ‘80s, often acknowledged in a hushed confession that this time wasn’t just roller skates, MTV and Olivia Newton-John sporting neon leg warmers. Poverty crept up unnoticed, strikes routinely filled the streets, and nuclear annihilation seemed a real possibility. All of this acrimony was the perfect breeding ground for a movement that has proven largely inimitable given the nature of today’s society. As such, For This is Past is as good a relic as any, perfectly capturing the nihilism of one of history’s most confused eras.

Bless this intelligent mess.



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user ratings (42)
4.1
excellent

Comments:Add a Comment 
Archael
November 26th 2015


1163 Comments


Ooh baby
Ooh baby

Ryus
November 26th 2015


17954 Comments


been meaning to hear this for so long

adr
November 26th 2015


12033 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

^^^^

ShitsofRain
November 26th 2015


8166 Comments


Jac made it!°°°°°

treeqt.
November 26th 2015


16964 Comments


just
do
it

InfamousGrouse
November 26th 2015


4339 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

good writeup

Havey
November 26th 2015


10255 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

hardest pos since dread into bread



(:

DrMaximus
November 26th 2015


12523 Comments


and when the light looks more or less reasonable to yea~

mindleviticus
November 26th 2015


10018 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

finally someone reviewed this.



fantastic album.

TheWrenKing
November 26th 2015


1696 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Right this I need to hear

Archael
November 27th 2015


1163 Comments


Dude you'd love it

treeqt.
November 27th 2015


16964 Comments


didn't we have a review for this once

DrMaximus
November 27th 2015


12523 Comments


Perhaps

Chortles
November 27th 2015


21450 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

yes yes v good

Keyblade
November 27th 2015


28244 Comments


very nice writeup, had no idea about any of that context

TheWrenKing
November 27th 2015


1696 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Oh yes this is magnificent

Archael
December 1st 2015


1163 Comments


rip this alb

Lethean
December 14th 2015


1491 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

finally got a review nice

AnimalsAsSummit
February 22nd 2016


4311 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

rules

Digging: Date of Birth - Planet DOB

Cygnatti
March 22nd 2016


32928 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

it's hard to choose a favorite from this (excluding obwt)



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