Some more thoughts on the new Rev album....
Firstly, it should be noted that this album was entirely composed, performed, programmed, recorded, engineered and produced by Martin at his own home studio in NYC. As far as I'm aware, this is the first time that he's worked without external producers or pro-studios since the earliest demos. It sounds to me like he's trying to emulate the recording conditions under which he and Vega made 'The First Rehearsal Tapes' which, along with the Cabs' 'Attic Tapes' and John Cale's '60's demos, are some of the most astonishingly intense, otherworldy home recordings I've ever heard. Finally released after 25 years as a bonus disc on Mute's re-issue of Suicide's 'Second Album', 'The First Rehearsal Tapes' were a revelation. Recorded 'live' onto a domestic two-track reel-to-reel tape machine in their basement hideout sometime in '75, with Rev playing a battered Farfisa organ with primitive drum machine accompaniment and Vega (yet to fully develop his 'dark Elvis' persona) whispering through dense clouds of spring reverb. The sound is so stark, so compressed, so utterly alien. Waves of echo, flanger and phaser fx seem to come out of nowhere, temporarily drowning the music in a mush of electronically treated insanity, until it gradually begins to coalesce. (Somewhat improbably, one of these tracks, 'A-Man' ,was used in a TV advert campaign by Tia Maria. I nearly shat my pants in astonishment the first time I saw it!)
Okay, so Rev has long since ditched the simplicity of the organ and drum machine set up. These days he's using modern, affordable digital sequencers and a host of digitally-reproduced timbres; from electric guitar stabs, slap bass, vibes, acoustic-like drums, turntable scratching...the whole range of sonic 'possibles' found in the vast memory banks of today's keyboards and tone modules. But he's messed with them somehow. The sound is so punchy and compressed, like he's deliberately set the recording level too high or something - the music sounds like it's gonna break your hi-fi if you play it too loud. It's that sense of 'perceived' loudness and the rampantly aggressive mix which makes this album so startling on first listen. And Rev's voice - which, incidentally, seems to mimic Vega's early vocal style - is so overdriven it just punches a big fucking hole in the mix, like all the other sounds get beaten into the background. There's simply not enough room for them all in the frequency spectrum. I imagine that the method of getting the music onto tape was as crucial to Martin as the actual compositions. It's all about density, reaching that point of critical mass where it seems like everything going to implode on itself at any minute. The recording process as Weapon of Mass Destruction.
That's not to say that the choons are of secondary importance. Far from it. The opening title track tears through the speakers with all guns blazing. It sounds like the Young Gods covering the Stooges' 'Penetration'. It's as though the souls of the Ashton brothers have somehow been encoded into Rev's machines. "Water" and "Black Ice" work in a similar way: chugging Detroit rock 'n' roll reduced to a series of binary codes, spat out by Rev's sequencers; relentless, unforgiving, the musical equivalent of The Terminator come to wipe out those puny human rock musicians.
"In Your Arms" might sound familiar to hardcore fans, as the backing track has been part of Suicide's live set for several years now. It can be heard as "White Man" on the live bonus disc that came with early copies of last years' "American Supreme" album. Rev adds a new lyric that seems to hark back to the First Rehearsal Tapes track "Into My Arms". The riff is an absolute monster. Up there with Suicide classics like "Girl" and "Rain Of Ruin" for sheer magnetism.
Things get really strange when you get to "Shimmer", which starts out like another rocker, before being consumed by an avalanche of digital processing; smeared, stretched and crushed by delay, flanger and god knows what else, until it becomes unintelligible. It sounds like improvisation, as though the Digital FX Processor is Rev's new Lead Instrument. The sound becomes more insane and chaotic as Rev travels into the furthest reaches of freeform extemporisation, twisting knobs and pushing buttons as deftly and intuitively as Pharoah Sanders attacking the tenor sax at the peak of his powers. The amazing thing is that Rev was already hinting at this technique on those early home recordings.
"Painted" throws layers of abstract sound-matter over a beat that's pure mid-80's NYC Electro. It's like Arthur Baker jamming with Autechre. "Lost In The Orbits" adds manic DJ 'scratching' and urgent synthetic horn punctuation over percussive clatter, whilst "Jaded" sounds like 'Wizard Of The Vibes' Milt Jackson improvising over the nightmarish echo-chamber special FX from "Frankie Teardrop".
But it's not all skull-crushing intensity. The brilliantly titled "Gutter Rock" is in fact a gorgeous slice of cosmopolitan jazz-funk with high, keening strings, brass vamps, subtle layers of percussion and a chord change to die for, over which Martin scats like a love-struck Travis Bickle, cruising downtown Manhatten, observing the "Street Corner Harmony", reveling in the lowlife underworld that he inhabits.
Not bad for an old bloke, you say? That's an insult when you consider that there are places on this album as intense as any of Aphex Twin's more experimental pieces, and ten times more listenable too. No doubt John Cale will get all the headlines with his latest excursions with digital technology, but Rev's still out there forging ahead with his remarkable vision for future rock 'n' roll. Believe it.