Review Summary: The Philip K. Dick of Post-Rock
I first listened to this album on repeat while reading Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?
and found the music to be overwhelmingly appropriate for the story’s mood. I could imagine if Rick Deckard were in a band he might sound a bit like Graham; likewise Pris could be the woman who whimsically sings along to the verses in “400 Winters” or counts to three in occasionally the wrong order in “Burning the City”. The instrumentation on this album sounds dusty and timeless, combining analog soundscapes with bizarre, future-mechanical sampling, as if the songs were pieced together from post-war San Francisco studio scrap. And the listing of “found drums” and “found trumpet” in the credits all give the album a very post-something-or-other vibe. I was thinking post-apocalypse.
A year later, post-obsessing over this album I found an original CD copy of Hex
in my university radio station’s rather large music library. I had time to kill so I tore through the jewel case and found, behind the booklet, a slip that said “Want to know more about Bark Psychosis as well as receive updates on future music? Send us this slip with your name and address and you’ll be added to our mailing list.” I took the slip. The copyright on the bottom said 1994. This was 2017.
I filled out the slip with my name and address as prompted. I checked all the boxes and in the additional comments section, I wrote “I would definitely like to know more about Bark Psychosis. - [my name] 2017”. I stamped and mailed the slip.
About a year later, I received a square parcel in the mail. I opened it and found a copy of the Codename: Dustsucker
reprint with a small note that said “[my name], thanks for listening. - Graham”.
is a significant step forward from the already innovative Hex
. Whereas the debut has moments of brilliance intermingled with overly-long, meandering songs that fall a little flat, Codename: Dustsucker
is a much more consistent and refined work. Hex
nails the moody atmospheres but musically sounds thin
and is simply too heady and spaced-out to enjoy for long. Melodically, it lacks variety. Codename: Dustsucker
addresses every issue the debut had and perfects the Bark Psychosis formula.
Standout tracks from Hex
such as “The Loom” and “Big Shot” foreshadow Codename: Dustsucker
’s emphasis on rhythm, which is ultimately the backbone of the band’s sound. The percussion is particularly prominent and well-executed on Codename: Dustsucker
, due in part to Graham’s (admittedly odd) foray into Drum and Bass music, but primarily because of the inclusion of Talk Talk’s Lee Harris who handles most of the album’s acoustic drums. His prowess can be heard in full glory on the astounding “400 Winters,” the drumming sounding like an homage to Talk Talk’s “Ascension Day”. It’s really bombastic; I can’t imagine Lee’s ride cymbal looked great after that recording. The track steps out of the shadows and is honestly quite serene and uplifting.
Some of the album’s key moments lie deeply in the shadows, however, with the hypnotic “Miss Abuse” slithering along as it systematically adds a series of unsettling yet pleasurable sounds to the fold. The introduction of those grumbly three bass notes midway through the track are subtly satisfying, and the gonky synth “riff” that brings in the track’s final phase is equally perturbing and intriguing—I still don’t know what to make of it. But somehow, it all fits together perfectly. Similarly, the brooding and spacious ambience of “INQB8TR” is massive and cerebral, but the boomy, muffled drums and quiet melodies provide a calm center to the song’s dark vastness. The clicky hi-hats that fade in and out and pan around the mix are a textural highlight of the album and, on the right sound system, are a perfect counterpoint to the track’s low-end sounds that are all incredibly well-engineered.
Album opener “From What Is Said To When It’s Read” mirrors the mood of “400 Winters” and does well to introduce the album’s sonic palette. The lush vocal harmonies from Graham are honestly quite great and, while not being a particularly gifted or prominent vocalist, it does show that he’s figured out what works for him vocally and what doesn’t (see: “Fingerspit”). The ambient closer “Rose” falls short of Hex
’s closer “Pendulum Man”—a near perfect ambient track that Eno should be proud of—but eventually ends on a blissful note, with the tranquil mantra of “vertrau mir” being Bark Psychosis’s last words.
Undoubtedly the album’s high point is the phenomenal “Black Meat” and, well, let’s cut straight to the chase: the moment of silence followed by the explosive trumpet solo are complete and total euphoria. One of the most cathartic moments I’ve heard in music, a worthy rival to the legendary harmonica solo in Talk Talk’s “The Rainbow”. This track alone carries the album far above anything the band produced on Hex
. And while that album was a necessary step, it’s Codename: Dustsucker
that sees the Bark Psychosis formula perfected.