Wednesday, 24 January 2018

Nocturnal Emissions (2017)

Lordy - 'tis good to have brand new Emissions vinyl through the mail in 2017, even a brand new vinyl assemblage of material recorded more than a quarter of a century ago. This would be greatest hits but for the relative obscurity of the material, and that everything here was specifically generated back in the eighties, so nothing from Mouth of Babes, Collateral Salvage or the reggae album.

Regarding the Emissions, one quote which has always stayed with me is the description of Caroline K as a sort of female John Cooper Clarke, which I recall having read way, way back, possibly even before I'd even heard the band, although somehow not in the 1981 issue of Neumusik wherein it first appeared. The screwy thing is that, as I see from the insert which comes with this vinyl double, the review was written by Andrew Cox, whom I first met in 1990 and knew for a number of years prior to his somewhat tragic demise in 2009, and who was my best pal for a long time, roughly speaking; and yet I never realised it was himself who wrote that description until now. I'm not even sure what to conclude from the revelation, except that it's possibly indicative of how important the music of this band has been to me over the years; if you want to call it music, because you don't have to and it probably doesn't matter either way.

I always thought the John Cooper Clarke comparison was a bit silly, personally, but never mind. I assume Andrew was referring to When Were You Last in Control of Your Dreams and Aspirations?, the first track on both this and Tissue of Lies from which it is taken, and upon which Caroline intones a blandly officious list of contacts, to the secretary of the British charity commission and so on. Tortured instrument noises noodle away and underneath it all is a rhythm which sounds like a ticker tape machine doing the hucklebuck. It's a peculiar track not because of the noise or juxtaposition of contrasting elements, or because it sounds like it doesn't realise anyone would be listening to it as music, but because it isn't even trying to be art from what I can tell, at least not art by the usual terms. As with much of what Nigel Ayers has done over the years, even those tracks which sound like pop records, there's still that suggestion of channelling, or of something which simply resembles art or music from where the rest of us are stood. I don't know if there's been a concerted effort to avoid the more mannered, affected renderings of those working in roughly the same field, but sometimes it feels like it. The music of Nocturnal Emissions often seems to represent an attempt to get at the unalloyed essence of its subject, whether that subject be social, political, or psychogeographical. There's no showbiz here, no angle, no sales pitch, no pandering to an audience, no attempt made to sell your own anger back to you.

The big surprise with this collection is how well it all hangs together, how consistent it all sounds with the same basic sensibility underpinning the noise, the dance music, and even the prospective whale song. It's all coming from the same place, which wasn't so obvious when these tracks were limited to separate discs, and there's a truly generous spirit to this music, a joyful dissident noise which will have you punching the air even when the thing coming from the speakers sounds like a truck reversing over a photocopier.

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