Thursday, 28 May 2015

Controlled Bleeding - The Drowning (1994)

Controlled Bleeding are one of those bands which somehow passed me by. I was vaguely aware of their existence at least as far back as the album they put out on Sterile Records, and yet I never really intersected with whatever it was they did until my friend Paul stuck a load of tracks on a tape for me - which apparently I liked, but not enough to inspire my rushing out and buying anything. I think I came to view Controlled Bleeding as just one of those many industrial bands seemingly formed so as to bulk up the page count of the review section in Music from the Empty Quarter: Toe Revision, Terminal Necrosis, Stymied Function, Balding Operator, Sexy Hippo - there were a million of the fuckers out there, all frowning away in front of electrical substations, probably distributed by Play It Again Sam or Wax Trax! and no real reason for me to listen to any of it, so far as I could figure out.

Years later, a Controlled Bleeding CD has come to seem one fuck of a lot more exotic when found in a second hand store in Texas, a store of the type which prides itself on stocking both kinds of music - both country and western; so of course I had to buy the thing.

The Drowning does actually sound roughly how I imagined it might, at least in places, but is significantly more interesting than I expected. Whatever it was that Paul taped on my behalf left me with an impression of Controlled Bleeding as being, very roughly speaking, the American Nocturnal Emissions - at least in terms of those early discs, the ones which made SPK sound like the fucking Archies; but this seems to be only part of the picture.

The Drowning actually sounds almost as though it could be a compilation album, such is the variety of musical styles - hard electronics, drifting film score, vaguely rhythmic stuff, pieces hinting at Muslimgauze or Cop-era Swans or the aforementioned Nocturnal Emissions. Ordinarily such eclecticism might seem to verge on lack of direction, or at worse, just plain not knowing what the fuck you're doing - like all those skinny trouser bands with the token unconvincing attempt at reggae on each album; but somehow this set hangs together quite well. My guess is that this would be thanks in part to a great opening track which seems to set up the sheer diversity of the collection as a theme, or at least seems to do so in my small world. It's the generic guitar rock which abruptly pulls the rug out from under the feet of our ears - so to speak - with its sudden transformation into eight minutes of seriously hard power electronics, horrendous noise so distorted as to entirely obscure the source and recorded with absolute digital clarity, so allowing the listener to become lost in appreciation of the texture; and the more you listen, the more it feels like there's some sort of non-verbal narrative here, something which clearly owes some kind of debt to Russolo's noise symphonies. The suggestion of narrative, with certain sounds appearing to respond to each other in some sense, carries on for the duration of the album as the story mutates and is scored to variant genres. What is further quite refreshing here, is that this isn't to say that The Drowning serves as a soundtrack to something, but rather it is the narrative itself; so jolly good.

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