6. The experience of repetition as death - Clarice Jansen (Fat Cat Records)
I first encountered Clarice Jensen's distinct cello stylings five years ago. Max Richter had brought together a group of musicians to perform 'Sleep' his ambitious concept about the neuroscience of sleep where the music would weave it's way into the listener's subconscious, to leave its indelible imprint. The strings for 'Sleep' were provided by the American Contemporary Music Ensemble, whose artistic director happened to be Clarice Jansen. Despite not getting any shut-eye whilst listening to 'Sleep', Jensen had made a significant impression.
Once heard, not forgotten. Her genius could also be glimpsed through her many collaborations (the late Jóhann Jóhannsson, members of post-classical drone masters A Winged Victory for the Sullen, as well as Arcade Fire, Nick Cave and a whole host more). To my knowledge, I have remained fully awake through all of my encounters with her playing.
It's astounding that 'The Experience of Repetition as Death' is only Jensen's second solo album, it's scope, imagination and even its title (taken from Adrienne Rich's haunting poem 'A Valediction Forbidding Mourning' ) are breathtaking. Across the five pieces here, Jensen's cello is blended into shifting loops, mixed with electronic effects and formed into drone drenched sound pieces.
The concept of the record is a startling meditation on the human urge to repeat behaviour and is somewhat inspired by Freud's observations on people's "compulsion to repeat” self-destructive behaviours or to re-live traumatic events. Midway through the album, 'The Metastable' reflects on such a trauma, namely the hospitalisation of Jensen's terminally ill mother. It's sound inspired by the repetitive beeping noises heard on a hospital ward. It is both beautiful and deeply unsettling.
The most devastating piece here is the penultimate 'Holy Mother' which sounds as if Phillip Glass has snuck into a spacious old cathedral to play the organ but is met by unwelcome drones and echoes. It's a captivating work that doesn't let go until it is through. 'The experience of repetition as death' is a truly mesmerizing album that rewards the listener upon every play.
5. Untitled (Black is) - Sault
‘Take off your badge
We all know it was murder,
Wildfires - Sault
And so, the most exciting and enigmatic band of 2019 returned but this time the scintillating mix of funk, R&B, soul, electronica and Afrobeat was delivered with a strong message of protest.
Released weeks after the death of George Floyd and the overflowing of rage at both the event and the systemic racism that brought it about, 'Untitled (Black is) is a bold and defiantly delivered response. It is never blinded by its anger, 'Stop Dem', 'Don't Shoot Guns Down' and 'Wildfires' are graceful in their defiance in the face of such ugliness. The sadness of the latter poignantly encapsulated the frustration of the Black Lives Matter movement.
There are only a handful of genuinely worthwhile protest records, the ones that are both capable of commenting on an incident without being tied to a moment in time. Songs that will always be true. 'Untitled' (Black is) is such a record.
4. Fetch the Bolt Cutters - Fiona Apple
You can see why an album that is clearly not about the claustrophobia induced by lockdown could easily become its uneasy soundtrack.
The first item for consideration is the boltcutters themselves. So, you've been locked down 24-7 with those whom you would prefer to only evenings and weekends with? 'Fetch the boltcutters, I've been in here too long...' indeed. Nice interpretation, but this is not a record about victim hood, it about fight!
‘Under the Table’ is justifiable defiance (‘kick me under the table all you want, I won’t shut up’), it’s challenging offensive behaviour. Even spikier is ‘Relay’ (‘I resent you for presenting your life like a fucking propaganda brochure’) the calling out of hypocrisy and indignation is matched only by the music descends into a mess of meandering percussion.
There’s a telling line on the title track:
‘I grew up in the shoes they told me I could fill/shoes that were not made for running up that hill...’ That nodding reference to Kate Bush, that can only lead to comparison. Bush would decorate her tales with a cast of characters to deliver her stories. Fiona Apple’s writing is not about that performance, that theatre. This is unvarnished, direct and personal. ‘Fetch the Bolt Cutters’ never shies away from the truth. Now, go and fetch your own bolt cutters.
the main image on this page... Clarice Jensen, by Naoko Maeda