CD, Coreline Media Projects / Sonic Mainline, 2009
It’s sometimes been hard to reconcile the two facets of Chris McCall’s output. The seemingly ultra-serious music with the joyously insane (and whisper it, *fun*) live shows, but here, somehow, we may have the missing link at last. Like some kind of mad scientist (or inventor?) anything that may work is hurled into the mix – presumably from a safe distance just in case it blows up in his face – and it’s to his immense credit that the vast majority of these ideas actually work.
One such perhaps risky idea becomes clear in the opening track (“Coreline Builds Better Robots”) where the Easingwold School Junior Choir provide vocals, amid the robotic-techno-industrial mayhem. Most sane people would suggest that school choirs should only – if ever – appear in novelty records, perhaps, but Chris provides a compelling argument for their use for more, umm, intriguing ends. Perhaps it’s the things he got them to sing. Or maybe it’s just as much fun imagining the pitch to get them involved. But then, this also brings me back to the live shows again. Back at Infest, this track was aired complete with dances in the cheapest cardboard robot outfits imaginable, but still had us enthralled rather than laughing at them.
How to follow this? “Dance Electric” does so much play with styles as subvert them, bolting together harsh, metallic rhythms and some seriously cheesy rave synths, and further bolts miraculously hold together three distinct sections before the whole lot gets tossed in the bin and we are presented with “Magic/Science [Your Choice]”, where multiple rhythms loop in and out of each other, and nothing is given the chance to stick around for more than a matter of seconds. Anyway, it’s already clear by this point that the correct answer is science, but the tricks that are being pulled do make you wonder.
Following a noisy, bouncing exhortation to play “The Game”, “Dis-Tanz” feels somewhat directionless, not helped by a hard-house style build mid-way that is totally wasted when the climax is somewhat limp. Rather more successful is “This is Industrial Baroque” that, yes, does exactly what it says on the tin in a striking, cut-up style. “Solastalgia” then takes it the other way, and for the first time, there are perhaps too many ideas involved and it has no real flow.
Ignoring the minor interlude, “This Is Not A Lovesong” is neither a cover nor a love song, and instead is a straightforward meshing of string effects and pounding, mid-tempo beats (and it’s great), while “First Last Only” brings skittering breakbeats from the bag of tricks along with a naggingly familiar film sample.
On the last two tracks, things take a turn for the more downtempo. The strangely titled “F.B.N” has odd chimes and effects pushed upfront, with the beats given much less prominence, while the final track “Middle” – a collaboration with David Lawrie – brings the wholly unexpected appearance of acoustic guitar and vocals, underpinned by pounding beats. It’s a very, very brave idea, and it just about works – but Lawrie does get somewhat drowned out at points, which I’m pretty sure wasn’t the idea.
But then, going against the grain is what McCall does so well, and the best things here are the ones that sound like no-one else – like the opening salvo of tracks. As I said at the beginning, there is a fearless sense of experimentation here that you cannot help but applaud as a listener, even if you can’t agree with it all. A challenging listen that is well worth the effort.
— Adam Williams