Every so often something comes along and it just stops you in your tracks, and you just say to yourself:
“Fuck me, where did that come from?!”
That happened to me earlier this year with ‘The Final Age‘ album, and now it’s happened again only a month later with this latest offering from Anthroprophh. What makes this particularly notable is that there are a number of musicians that are involved in both projects. The Final Age was conceived by Jesse Webb, while Anthroprophh, particularly on this occasion, is the brainchild of Paul Allen; while others who were involved in both include Agathe Max and Gareth Turner who, as Kuro, delivered one of my favourite albums of 2016.
What I’m maybe suggesting here is that there is something of musical sweet spot going on here with these collaborations, but I have to say that while I’ve always rated Allen’s music, including with The Heads, ‘Omegaville’ might just be the high point of his output so far for its sheer scale, variety and impact. I’m aware that this is quite a statement to make… but is feels like the realisation of something… the committing of a vision onto wax… a massive download of creativity. As the press release states:
Structured by Allen’s admission akin to Can’s ‘Tago Mago’ as a double album which places the more conventional tracks at its start and the more explicitly experimental and outré adventures on the second disc, this is a cliff-edge into sanity-risking overload which has much in common with the glory days of 1971 – the Nurse-With-Wound-list realm of record-collector gold where heavy rock, nascent prog and wilfully art-damaged netherscapes thrived – a harmonious and thrilling marriage between transgressive over-amplification and the avant-garde.
This is indeed one of those records that feels like someone has taken a lifetime of listening, mixed it up, and regurgitated it out in a manner that is more than the sum of its parts… and there are a lot of parts to this multi-layered and eclectic work. It is a work that starts with something that is raw and gradually unravels into an experimental wasteland. Along the way are multifarious touchstones from the last fifty years or so, both well-known and niche… and many more that I no doubt didn’t notice.
The album kicks off with the sonic devastation of ‘2029’ which is so heavy, so chaotic and so fucked up that I would happily put this on repeat as the world disintegrates around me… it’s like Killing Joke on steroids and lasts less than two minutes. Having set that early standard ‘Dead Inside’ powers in to keep up the pace, and the quality high. Allen’s full on guitar style is already to the fore here, as are his vocals which push the track along like a train hitting the buffers again… again… again. Less than five minutes in and we’re already looking at something special when ‘Housing Act 1980’ tonks in with a major riff and more of that chaotic mixing that can be described as nothing other than ‘exciting’ and remains so after repeated listens… a stunning track that takes an already nascent listen to new highs as the tracks gradually get longer and more drawn out, yet no less immediate for all that.
There is no let up as ‘Oakmoll’ kicks in. Not quite as frenetic as what has gone before, although still more so than 95% of the things you’ll listen to in your life. There is also melody here, and you sense Allen’s passion in his vocal. This really suggests me what a labour of love this album is for him. The track then breaks out into an unholy and massive freak out which seems to go on for ages… holy shit I hope I get to hear this one live soon… what a hit!
How the hell do you follow that? Well with ‘Sod’… which also just bangs into action like that massive motherfucker of a track it is… except after about a minute in it stops… resets… and goes off again in a rather different direction with a guitar freak out that is as captivating as it is brilliant, with that Webb/ Turner rhythm section holding it together and daring Allen to go farther and farther out on a limb. Really? What can you say? Just stunning!
‘Death Salad’ is, for me, the first track here that you could put on any other Anthroprophh album. As such it perhaps marks the point where this set moves from the heavy uncompromising RAWK to the more experimental side. Even then there are melodies here that I’ve not really heard from Anthroprophh before, especially in the mid-section. From there we begin to move into different territory with the less pacy, but more spacey, ‘Why Are You Smiling?’. There is something a little unsettling about this, perhaps it’s something to do with the adjustment from what has gone before… the sonic bends of coming up too quickly as Allen’s weird vocals throw you off balance… we’re in a different place now, it’s not pretty and it is challenging… bring it on!
After that the beginning of ‘I’ comes as something of a relief. It’s clear that there’s no going back now, but there is something less dislocated here. Indeed there is a real warmth to this track, probably as close as we’re ever going to get to bucolic… although this does get veiled in fuzz and vocals which, again, Allen belts out as if there’s no tomorrow. This is a number that is really located in the late 60s counter culture… heavy, druggy, with a Hendrix guitar that screams out at you… like all the tracks here it is different from what has gone before, yet somehow follows a continuum. Again and again with this album you are hit with emotional highs and as ‘I’ builds up here’s another one… I may be overdoing it but this is really astounding and outstanding… wow Wow WOW!!
As you listen to this you begin to wonder where it can go next, with ‘Maschine’ you think the title may be a clue… but as it starts in a relatively lugubrious manner… it’s not clear that this will be the case. There’s more of a blues/ jazz feel going on here. Gradually, however, the elements begin coalesce into something that may well have been influenced by early 70s Kraut sensibilities as more experimental urges take over. Maybe not the motorik beat I was expecting, but there is a certain disconnection here all the same… but then it all changes again as the beat drops out and something more etherial lingers like a background vibration… all of a sudden there’s a real feeling of absence as it fades away adding nuance to the full on power of earlier.
The beginning of ‘Human Beast’ immediately revives the Kraut vibe as Webb smashes the Can down the road with an amazing percussive section that gets more mesmeric as the track progresses. Then, about half way through the seven minutes, Allen’s guitar kicks in and adds the flesh to Webb’s pounding of the bones. A track that began simply now leaving me breathless in its execution once more by the end.
This segues into ‘OMEGAVILLE/ THOTHB’… a long drawn out number whose vocal feels like a socio-political commentary that reveals an anger that never seems to be far below the surface on this album. I’m struggling to find the right way to describe this as it’s both unsettling and weirdly meditative. It pulls you in different ways… ways that you would not normally feel are compatible. It is as if you are encouraged to feel unbalanced, to be agitated… Then about six minutes in you’re plunged into an ultra-noise dystopian hell… you feel like you are falling… there is no escape… the piercing nature of the feedback disorientates you… this is not a comfortable listen… but man it is good. It’s like you are getting a sonic exfoliation of your insides… ‘kin ‘ell!
Then it stops…
I have no fucking clue where I am… machines click and throb… then there’s a feeling of movement once more… this is not good… it’s like being in the middle of a nightmare… a nightmare that you’re not quite sure whether you want to stop or not… what a ride!
After that I feel totally rung out… good job there’s not another twenty minute track to go… oh wait! ‘Journey Out Of OMEGAVILLE and into the………..’ at least suggests we’re leaving wherever we were, which, frankly, can only be good news. It starts a little more gently than its predecessor, like the calm after the storm. Everything feels that bit more primitive… empty… sparse! In the background is a plaintiff guitar mixed away up at top left… the dominant sounds being those of a seafaring nature it seems. Maybe we are adrift… not exactly in control of the exit alluded to in the title. The vocal joins the guitar giving narrative to the journey… the singing is mechanical, fuzzy… the rhyme of the nebulous manic. The movement is glacial, introspective and liminal… and as the track finally progresses into something that feels like a delirium… we lose touch with reality and seemingly fall of the edge of existence as the journey ends, as the title suggests, into the abyss… a cloud of unknowing… a depletion of consciousness… perhaps the only way to end this epic trip… how did we get from ‘2029’ to here?
Fans of The Heads might wish to look away now because I think that this might just be the best thing that Paul Allen has ever done. For me this double album is an absolute triumph not only because of the radically different points at either end of the set… but because of the journey it takes you on in between… every track has a different atmosphere to it and is excecuted with a real authenticity. For better or ill it feels like you are being taken through Allen’s mind, a journey that has massive ups and cavernous downs… a trip that you might not want to take lightly… but one that you most definitely want to take. It may be a masterpiece, only time will tell if that is the case. What I will say at this point is that it feels like one of the most significant albums that I have written about in the last five years because of its sheer breadth and vision. What hints at this for me is that there are not many albums that I feel like just sitting in silence after listening to… I do with this… and then I want to hear it again.
‘OMEGAVILLE’ is released on Rocket Recordings on 30th March 2018, and is available for pre-order here.
The gig pics are from an Anthropropph gig at the Shacklewell Arms in London in 2015. You can see the full ‘gig gallery’ here.