BARK PSYCHOSIS: CODENAME: DUSTSUCKER (2004)
1) From What Is Said To When It's Read; 2) The Black Meat; 3) Miss Abuse; 4) 400 Winters; 5) Dr. Innocuous / Retarded; 6) Burning The City; 7) Inqb8tr; 8) Shapeshifting; 9) Rose.
Although Graham Sutton has always been the hands, brains, guts, and sprites behind Bark Psychosis, «the band» and «the man» are not complete synonyms. Soon after the release of Hex and a companion EP (Blue), the band was dissolved, and Sutton moved on to other things for which the name «Bark Psychosis» was deemed inappropriate (such as the drum-and-bass project Boymerang with former B.P. member Daniel Gish, or the experimental combo .O.rang, where he worked with several of the former members of Talk Talk). However, beginning in approximately 1999, Sutton once again started recording music «Bark Psychosis-style» — realizing, perhaps, that this sort of abstract atmospheric soundscapes came to him more natural than anything else. Or maybe he just wanted another change, and why not a nostalgic one?
In any case, Codename: Dustsucker (I omit the three slashes that come with the title because they're ugly), named after Sutton's own studio called DustSucker Sound, does pick up more or less from the same spot where Hex left off, or, rather, from the same wispy cloud where Hex left off, because any memories of that album are just bound to be very, very hazy. And when it comes to haziness, Dustsucker does not disappoint, either: any attempt to «lay a finger» on even one of these tracks has been futile for me. Arranging this album on the shelves of one's brain is a little like trying to cut through jelly — it's all there, and it might even be quite tasty, but good luck dissecting it and trying to differentiate between different parts.
Technically, the album reflects Sutton's musical education over the previous decade, and its use of electronics and sampling makes it «modern» enough, I suppose, to make it at least palatable, if not necessarily attractive, to all those normally skeptical of «artistic comebacks» by people whose association with the previous decade had already destroyed their credibility in this one. But the truth of the matter is, Sutton seems much less concerned with following trends and proving his «relevance» to anybody than he is with simply pursuing his elusive, twisted muse. Just like Hex, this record, too, is destined for critical respect rather than popularity — in another attempt to create an emotional masterpiece, Sutton has instead created an intellectual conundrum that some will hate, a few will love, some will pretend to love, and a few more — like yours truly — will simply be baffled about.
The song structures are this time, if at all possible, even more dense and complicated, and yet at the same time there is a distinct intuitive feeling that nothing whatsoever is really going on — that it's all just an endless series of variations on the «wind in the willows» theme. For instance, in the middle of the opening track, ʽFrom What Is Said To When It's Readʼ, which begins as a soothing New Age-style lullaby, all magical-enchanted droning guitars and elfish backing vocals, there comes a jarring feedback crash, as if some explosive container has just burst open, and suddenly everything is covered in the dusty ashes of rumbly distortion. But has anything really changed? No. It's not the way it sometimes happens on black-folk-metal albums — "now we're all jangly and quiet and medieval and mystical", "and now we have POWEEEEER!" Even the explosion is handled cautiously and quietly. You might not even notice that it took place. But it did, and the effect is rather... strange.
Another such «now you see it, now you don't» type of change is observable, for instance, on ʽMiss Abuseʼ. For the first minute and a half, it just stealthily creeps along on a diet of soft brushed percussion, some overlapping chiming rhythms, and dark hushed half-sung, half-spoken vocals. Then a menacing fuzzy bassline claims part of the territory, striking up some suspense. Then, after a brief, somewhat free-form, interlude, we seem to return to the same basic melodies, but a grumbly electronic pulse has set in, and for a few more minutes we have been locked in a groove that is, atmosphere-wise, completely different: distant and winterishly cold, rather than intimate and autumnally melancholic, where we began. Again, nothing has changed — and yet, at the same time, everything has changed.
This formula is not applied everywhere: sometimes tunes are allowed to end more or less the same way they started — in particular, on ʽInqb8trʼ, the album's longest and most monotonous track, where this lack of change is its main weakness: as it is, it just sounds like a rather generic exercise in smooth jazz jamming, and I have a very hard time convincing myself of its magical powers, because, you know, repetitive percussion loops and husky vocals per se are not quite sufficient in these days of real heavy competition between the many magicians of smooth jazz. But most of the time, we are indeed witnessing the process of ʽShapeshiftingʼ, as more and more tunes undergo odd transformations — on ʽShapeshiftingʼ itself, the funky shoegazing drone and the weepy vocals of guest star Rachel Dreyer eventually give way to a howling, screeching, post-Neil Young-ish burst of soloing, after which the song is stripped of melody and becomes a percussive stroll through a jungle of creepy electronic effects. Shapeshifting? You bet.
The meaning and the implied effects of all this are not altogether obvious to me; you will have to decide for yourself whether the album «works» or if it is merely «strange» (and even that only if you listen to it attentively enough — otherwise, mistaking it for a run-of-the-mill New Age offering is easycakes). In any case, there is no reason to be inconsistent and not give it the same kind of respectful, but suspicious thumbs up that I already gave Hex: despite the ten years that lie between the two, there is no feel of any such uncomfortable time gap. Nothing strange about that, either — Bark Psychosis is one band that seems to exist completely in its own user-defined dimensions; the concept of «time» is hardly applicable here at all. Oh, and, just for the record, I also think this is just the kind of soundtrack that goes perfectly well with reading A La Recherche Du Temps Perdu; certainly Sutton and Proust have a thing or two in common.