Monday, December 8, 2008

You Will Not Be Spared From Thinking: Stroszek's Manufacturing Consent EP

I first fell in love with The Clash, which led to a passion for political, intelligent lyrics, and eventually to bands like the Manic Street Preachers, Gang of Four and McCarthy. Then I fell for Joy Division, which led to an intense admiration for lyrics and music that documented a fraught inner life and the turmoil and starkness of reality in a minimalist monochrome never heard before. The Clash tore down what music was the first time with punk. And Joy Division did it again with post-punk. Now the Glasgow-based band Stroszek, having fused the power of both bands into an ambitious, inspiring art and aesthetic, have a chance to bring music to its knees once more. It's been well over a year since Stroszek released their first EP aptly entitled Demonstration, an unapologetically political piece with funereal undercurrents pulsing beneath all four tracks (for more information about Demonstration, see my earlier post about it). This month sees the release of their second EP entitled Manufacturing Consent, a nod to Chomsky and Herman's seminal work on propaganda and the not-so-free press in "democratic" nations.

Featuring photography from Miron Zownir, an artist who has managed to expose the beauty in nihilism and deviance and to champion those on the periphery of society, this self-produced EP is more about personal politics and inner struggles against a world deafened by entertainment and simulacra. These tracks also reveal a keener desperation and energy than those on Demonstration; this time round it's a bit like Stroszek have turned into Nietzsche's madman, frenzied with knowledge they need to communicate to people who have never realized nor cared that their lives are governed by rhetorical forces. Stroszek simply know and feel too much and it's burning up inside of them. I'm glad that the four tracks on Manufacturing Consent finally made it to a proper release - these songs have been a fixture of Stroszek's live sets for quite some time (I, myself, witnessed Burning Libraries and Dancing on the Motorway firsthand over a year ago). They break down those borders between passion and reason that make us stubbornly human - their music makes you feel the thought behind the lyrics, words become palpable on a level beyond language.

The EP opens with the aforementioned Burning Libraries, a song built on a brilliant metaphor for destroying your own history and purging memories. It is Stroszek's most frenetic song with its unrelenting drums, disorienting reverb and tiny twitches of electronic clicks, and it truly feels like you're in an inferno of information overload before a collapse into feedback. The reprieve comes with the gentle, spine-tingling line "We'll be hand in hand/Ruining ourselves with fear," a lucid, yet no more comforting, moment amongst the anxiety and chaos. Burning Libraries is followed by live favourite Dancing on the Motorway, which features a viral bass line that grooves beneath the sonic bliss of guitar and relatively militant vocals: "Will you argue that it's fascist/If I want to kill the fascists?/I don't want your cold shoulder/I want you on the hard shoulder...Oh, whose side are you on?!/Are there any more souls to save?/While we are all just dancing on the motorway." This juxtaposition of danceability with accusatory, intelligent lyrics emphasizes the disconnect that you feel when you step outside of the masses and view them amusing themselves to death. Richey J. Robertson's straining, breathless vocals try to overcome the catchy oblivion of the beat in this Huxleyean generation, grasping for any of those he can pull to safety even as they sway to his own song. Knowing that the headlights are coming as a fatal dose of enlightenment arrives too late.

The sound of torrential rain signals the transition to This Town Revisited, which springs to life with cascades of Cocteau Twinsesque synths and another fantastic bass line. This song beautifully encapsulates the expression "you can never go home again" as the narrator comes to terms with the reality of his/her past against a backdrop gorgeously reminiscent of The Cure's A Forest. The song concludes with the plaintive line "Potential is never good enough/In this town, revisited." The final song on the track listing is the truly epic Sound the Last Post, one of the most poignant songs I've ever heard about war. The haunting guitar soars and chimes over the solemn bass, working once again in perfect tandem as the song marches through a forsaken sonic landscape of withered poppies as red as the carpet Agamemnon follows homeward. Referencing the Last Post Ceremony at Menin Gate in Ypres and the chief of police, Pierre Vandenbraambussche, who spearheaded the daily ceremony, this song scatters the noble image of soliders and the patriotism of fighting for your country like ashes to the wind. The second verse, which declares "Falling for your soil is NOT the question/But whether, for this dirt/You could ever kill someone" also reminds me of the quote from Bertrand Russell which stated, "Patriots always talk of dying for their country and never of killing for their country." It ends with lines from the film adaptation of Orwell's 1984 to drive home the point that we are still living in a world framed by propaganda and by terms cock-eyed and loaded and poised to subdue us all. There is also a hidden track attached to the end of Sound the Last Post called A Vision of the Future. I won't lie; I'm not a fan of hidden tracks because there never seems to be a point to having them. I will forgive this one, though, because with its use of more of the script from 1984, it definitely coalesces with the track it is following; however, it reveals a sharper electronic feel rather than the atmospheric electronics of Stroszek's established sound. In effect, Stroszek intrigue me until the very last second of this EP.

Manufacturing Consent is already available for download from several places - you can access those links when you go to Stroszek's MySpace. The physical copies of the EP will release soon as well. You can also download two previously unreleased tracks (Sleepwalkers and Maybe Find a Stranger) in their live versions at Threads of Sound. I fervently hope that a full-length album and new material will be forthcoming. We all need a thought-provoking, stylistically-challenging band like this. I think it's rather criminal that Stroszek doesn't have a higher profile when bands like Glasvegas get accolades for hackneyed stabs at played-out, comfortable themes and styles. I reckon that Stroszek are yet another one of those bands out of their time precisely because they see their time all too clearly. And those bands will always matter.

Stroszek's Web site:

Dancing on the Motorway - Stroszek

This Town Revisited - Stroszek