At one point in college, when I was flunking out of the thrasher that is Electrical Engineering, realizing I did not want to be whatever an Electrical Engineer was, and they certainly did not want me, I toyed with the idea of becoming a physicist. It scratched an itch formed by the rift a young man begins to form with the rest of the talking monkeys in his angry twenties. The study of unattainable cosmic bodies of unfathomable size and distance, finding secrets in the Big Numbers that map out the pimples on God's ass when plotted on special graph paper you get to buy from that section of the bookstore. It wasn't until an encounter with a frustrated physics major turned me away from it, describing the practical study of physics as doing the world's hardest word problems for an answer no one cares about, that I became convinced that being an armchair physicist is a far better lot for me, being able to converse on the subject, or at least sound convincing, allowing me to stick to the more masturbatory concepts rather than engaging in the actual rigor.
My favorite thing about physics is the absolutes, the infinities that one can juggle like bowling pins or chainsaws if one has a nimble enough hand, and the concept of matter and antimatter is a choice one. The idea that there has to be an "other" to all this stuff, and that the apocalyptic collision between the two is to delicious to not think about. All this seemed two easy an intro jibber-jab for reviewing the beautiful sad creature that is Antimatter's Planetary Confinement, until I realised that a very metaphoric antimatter element was at play here.
Antimatter, for all practical purposes is actually two different configurations operating under the aegis of the group name, creating an album of rare non-eruptive icy beauty. One group centers around multi-instrumentalist Duncan Patterson, who announced this to be his last Antimatter release opting to work under his own forthcoming project Ion, who shows a penchant for deep string like keyboard arrangements and utilizing female vocalists to create some of the warmest chilly music going. The other half is occupied by singer songwriter Mick Moss, and his sonorous tenor voice and deft acoustic guitar work. I had a chance to throw an message out into the abyss to see if I had a clear picture of the process behind this album:
OutsideLeft: From the liner notes, it looks like two mutually exclusive groups, one headed by Patterson and one by Moss, were responsible for half of the songs each. Is that the case, and if so is that the normal way the band works, or did that rift lead to Patterson to leave the band to form his own project. If I am right about it being created by two different groups, how would you describe your half? How would you describe that of the other? If I am totally wrong about this, then let me know as well.
Duncan Patterson: We decided to do it this way, to get the album done and dusted. We live in different countries and write separately anyway. It's never been a 'band', Antimatter has always just been me and Mick, and a few guests. There's no difference on this album in that respect. As for describing the songs, you can hear them better than I can describe them.
Alright then. Patterson creates a near classical vibe centering around spare piano like on the opening instrumental title track and the tracks featuring Amelie Resta's icy vocals like on "Line of Fire" and the particularly soulful cover of 80's Chicago stoner metal touchstone band Trouble's "Mr. White." The way the despairing ambiance is wound around breathy female vocals, it reminds me of the last gasps of Swans, where Jarobe's anti-diva chill was given a chance to shine. The best track of his half of the continuum, and the whole album, is the Zeppelin tinged "Relapse" where wheels of fingerpicking and foggy bogs of organ are cut through with Resta's spectral crooning, great heavy lines like
Rain washed the panic from today
Decimation of anxiety
tribulations drift away
Pray tomorrow offers clarity
Its this unabashed sense of drama that makes the songs work. Unlike a lot of heavy rock acts that trade in this cosmic desperation, there are no Chris Cornell onanistic wheedling screams. Instead, the sadness is left to hang in the air where it was uttered, offering you a chance to bask in it. This is the lusciously depressing music people mean when they say Radiohead is depressing. Radiohead is pop music dabbling in unhappiness, this is lie-on-your-floor, stare-at-the-ceiling melancholy. And when you need it, its the best thing there is.
Mick Moss' contributions feature his rich deep voice and crystalline guitar work backed up with undulating string arrangements. His voice is somewhere between the intoning of Dominic Appleton, singer for long forgotten aching beauty Breathless (and "The Jeweller" the finest song ever from This Mortal Coil) and an introspective Neil Diamond. His voice is so sonorous and dynamic, you remember that singers can actually sing after so many years of vocal posturing on the part of pipeless men. "The Weight of the World" puts his sound to good use to deliver his concept of the the abyss
I'm trying to scream but I can't exhale
The world seems to spin while I'm left on this square
With no will to hold on
Am I the only one crushed by the weight of the world?
whereas the cinematic "Epitaph" offers the tenderest ballad on the album, where you feel adrift on a black sea awaiting that big wave that will flip you over for good. The tracking of the album, trading songs between the two writers serves Moss the best, so that you are given a breather from his heavy froth before the next gulp. "A Portrait of the Young Man as an Artist" points his eye at the mirror, asking "does the picking of a string stop the ticking of the clock?" while his final croon "Legions" is an excellent lead-in to Patterson's final drone-chamber opus "Eternity part 24."
Despite this coming from two different sources, the melding of the two makes for a really compelling album, one that trades in that certain hopeful darkness that used to be the specialty of those smeary photo typeface atrocities from 4AD in the import bin. You don't get your gloom on with tenderness much anymore, its got too much camp in it for my tastes. Like fellow dark side Jedi Michael Gira of Angels of Light, these two singers show that one can still create little rock requiems that ring a cosmic vibration through us all.
Alex V. Cook listens to everything and writes about most of it. His latest book, the snappily titled Louisiana Saturday Night: Looking for a Good Time in South Louisiana's Juke Joints, Honky-Tonks, and Dance Halls is an odyssey from the backwoods bars and small-town dives to the swampside dance halls and converted clapboard barns of a Louisiana Saturday Night. Don't leave Heathrow without it. His first book Darkness Racket and Twang is available from SideCartel. The full effect can be had at alex v cook.com