Wednesday, 13 November 2019

Bernadette Cremin & Paul Mex - Mutual Territory (2018)

Poetry still makes me anxious godammit, but I'm trying, and I'm not actually having to try too hard with this one because it's excellent. As before, Mex effortlessly soundtracks Bernadette Cremin's words with jazzy, bluesy touches which hint at familiar forms without simply duplicating or impersonating, and the whole reminds me, of all things, of Clock DVA's Advantage album - hard stories told with a collar turned up against bitter winds howling down rain soaked streets, but with a whole lot of soul.

What differentiates Mutual Territory from what I may appear to have described, or tried to describe, is that whilst the music and images form a near seamless, moody whole, a perfect synthesis of atmosphere and narrative, I suspect the parts would work as well alone - as witnessed by the closing instrumental - because Cremin's testimony is shocking, chilling and yet powerfully familiar, and her words - softly spoken and measured - are delivered with the sort of gravity that silences a room. Cremin captures and dissects tiny instances of daily life, the prosaic and the painful, working at each one until it's as sharp as the point upon which someone's entire existence might change, hopefully for the better but there's a lot of room for ambiguity. It can be tough to listen to in the same way that Gary Oldman's Nil by Mouth is tough to watch, albeit possibly not quite so dark or relentless, but similarly it draws you in.

Mutual Territory has some of the intensity usually credited to records by Nick Cave - which I can never quite see, personally speaking. It hurts a bit but is not without redemptive qualities, and musically, it could be one of the best things Mex has ever had a hand in. My only complaint is that the musical setting of Hipsway Cabaret emulates that Venga Boys Eurothrob a bit too faithfully for comfort, although maybe that's the point given that this is hardly cosy listening.

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