It’s hard to think of a similar set-up since either ELECTRONIC or VISAGE before them, although this line-up featuring Benge (JOHN FOXX’s sideman in THE MATHS), Stephen Mallinder (one half of CABARET VOLTAIRE) and Phil Winter (from folktronica group TUUNG) is a far more experimental proposition than the two aforementioned outfits.
‘LA Spark’ is the first collection of tracks from the trio and is an analogue synthesizer tour de force, putting to good use the enviable collection of vintage equipment housed at MemeTune studios in Hoxton Square.
It is not a pristine piece of work, because of its source material, there is a lot of analogue hiss and distortion here, but this is part of the album’s charm. Every good band deserves to have their own theme and ‘LA Spark’ bursts into life with ‘Theme From Wrangler’, its ‘Astradyne’ style hi-hats introducing a gliding synth lead and speaker quaking bassline which eventually give way to a ghostly vocal which (because of its low mix level) becomes another texture in the track – this song pretty much sets the template for the rest of the album.
The spring-reverbed kicks from ‘Theme from…’ then lead into ‘Lava Land’, a track which shares distant DNA with KRAFTWERK’s ‘Autobahn’ and JOHN FOXX’s ‘Metamatic’, the accelerated electronics overlayed with Mallinder’s pitch-shifted vocals and a wonderfully retro Logan String Melody part, a keyboard which was a favourite with such luminaries as JOY DIVISION, NEW MUSIK and YELLO. The expertly placed percussion hits are eventually joined by another warped vocal, Mallinder in places sounding like one of Clive Barker’s demonic Cenobites from ‘Hellraiser’, especially on the “Burn, Babylon burn line!”
This track features probably the nearest thing to a sung vocal hook and provides some light relief from the darker textures which permeates through most of the work on show here.
‘Music IIC’ is probably the most experimental track on ‘LA Spark’, reminiscent of YAZOO’s ‘I Before E (Except After C)’ with its cut-up vocal parts, the track itself being inspired by the work of Jean-Claude Risset and Max Matthews, both pioneers of computer generated music and employees of Bell Laboratories.
‘Harder’ showcases a huge range of interlocking / synthetically produced percussion sounds and melodic string shift which recalls KRAFTWERK’s ‘Spacelab’, this track has arguably the most upfront vocal too with Mallinder’s chanting vocal drenched in reverse reverb.
Throughout the album, the warmth of the analogue synthesizers and drum machines are counterpointed by a harsh vocal sound which unlike most contemporary productions, sound deliberately un-de-essed, the sibilants being preserved, making Mallinder’s words cut through the mix with ease, but also making them sound dark and disturbing at the same time.
The other thing which resonates about ‘LA Spark’ is that it doesn’t pander one iota to any particular musical fad or fashion, and with the exception of the sampled/cut-up vocals on ‘Music IIC’, there is little here to suggest that this album couldn’t have been recorded 35 years ago… and for many potential listeners, this should be seen as a positive.
Very often, there can be nothing worse than established artists trying to “get down with the kids” by flirting with Trap or Dubstep or [insert your own flavour of the month genre here] and potentially coming off like an embarrassing relative twerking at a wedding…
This is an album that isn’t instant ear candy, it takes a few listens for its riches to be revealed and for the listener to be drawn into its world. However, once ushered in, ‘LA Spark’ shows that today’s electronic music doesn’t necessarily have to be saccharine and hook filled to be listenable and enjoyable.
With thanks to Steve Malins at Random PR
‘LA Spark’ is released by MemeTune in vinyl, CD and download formats
WRANGLER plays as part of the COM TRUISE all nighter at Shapes in Hackney, London on Saturday 31st May 2014. They also play The Hare & Hounds in Birmingham on Saturday 23rd August 2014
Text by Paul Boddy
5th May 2014