The Church Of Me
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Kissing in the churchyard, I know a righteous woman

Tuesday, November 26, 2002

Of course I didn’t spend the entire week listening to Throbbing Gristle non-stop. Even stern unbending puritans need a break occasionally. I finally tracked down a copy of Horsepower Productions’ In Fine Style on CD, and road-tested it on Saturday, the sodden, drenched Saturday, using my trusty all-zone Travelcard as a makeshift talisman.

I spent most of Saturday on buses, determinedly away from central London, adhering to obscure routes on the outer edges of the south-west, seven-day Sunday services, single decker with brands no one has ever heard of. The torrent seemed to fit the day perfectly; the avenues nearly all empty, the glorified village greens round New Malden, Coulsdon; the edge of the world circumference which is Roehampton/Surbiton/Tolworth – out to the dimmest arms of Hanworth, Isleworth and the Court of Hampton. Abandoned car boot sales, forlorn netball team practices, 1974 motor showrooms. Horsepower Productions sounded pretty environmentally friendly here. Endless cul-de-sacs, circuitous bus U-turns, a complexity of nowheres – because this is suburban drum ‘n’ bass; unlike more determined operatives such as Paradox, this is not urban music. It is constructed to be heard emanating dimly from Portastudios in upstairs bedrooms in Twickenham and Cheam.

It doesn’t all work. The infallible law of d&b albums is immediately evoked; that damned Fender Rhodes chord set against birdsong. Oh for fuck Gilles Peterson’s sake, burn your fucking Herbie Hancock albums, listen to some Revolutionary Ensemble – the spaces which dot “Fist Of Fury” are the best thing about the track. That bloody flute. Pretensions to classiness which can never hope to be met. Ideal for Surbiton, of course. “HDN” is slightly harder, but I still can’t get a handle on it.

(and the cover; we don’t want to see your workroom, your PC, your drinks cabinet – transport us elsewhere! show us not the nuts and bolts!)

The sequence of tracks 3-7 is the crux of the album. “Gorgon Sound” introduces unresolved minor/major keys, distancing themselves from each other like the tower blocks of West Croydon. When the JA voice roars in: “’Cause when it comes to MUSIC” it is thrust shockingly into your face. These guys know about dimensionality.

“Django’s Revenge” is based on a mournful synth-mandolin refrain which reminds me on one hand of a well-behaved 187 Lockdown and a barely tangible infinity derived from the Cocteau Twins’ “Otterley.” You notice how smartly the post-2step beats wind their way around your ears with great purpose and power. The sound is clean and demonstrable.

“The Swindle” samples an indie black music record company type ranting about the majors “wanting to sell rubbish” but the spaciousness here is fantastically concave; hear the contrast between the Fairlight string chords and the echoing ska/dub guitar slashes. Here, as on “What We Do” (the vocal sample of the latter appears to go “what I’ve got, I sold”) I am reminded of a very Detroit kind of space, that unutterable poignancy we recognise from Juan Atkins and Kevin Saunderson; the latter is much more palpable on “Classic Deluxe.”

“Stone Cold Soul Vibes” is a soprano sax-sampling groove which goes nowhere in particular, and “Rude Boyz” never quite seems to get going, despite the harp/blues slide guitar motif which surfaces intermittently. “To The Beat Y’All” sees them back on form, however; this sounds like a marriage between late ‘80s Todd Terry and Boards of Canada (the maximalism of those poignant chord changes! that Portastudio minimalism!). “Pimp Flavors” essays a great slalom of beats which seem to ski their way around your head, but sadly runs out of ideas after the introduction of a hackneyed “American dream” sample. “Fat Larry’s Skank,” too, shucks and jives to sub-David Holmes effect, while on “Log On (Dub),” you are essentially waiting for Mike Skinner to come in – slightly too spacious.

But the emptiness is, it seems to me, a vital component of what makes In Fine Style worth 76 minutes of your time. There is something desolate, something anti-danceable, at its core – and it is that mystery, like the great yawning vistas in Sans Soleil, which is likely to draw me back to further days spent riding almost alone in buses in the rain. I have to enter myself more deeply before I can come out at the other end and re-enter the world.

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