It took me quite a while to appreciate the first Sex Swing album. With the exception of a couple of tracks, it felt like it was just the wrong side of accessible for me. However, a bit of perseverance and a couple of live performances later and I was on board.
I am always happy to be challenged by a record and really like it when I can come to appreciate it… In hindsight I would probably say that the band’s debut was also about these musicians from disparate bands coming together and feeling their way to a certain extent.
However, if that was the case I think that the band have really clicked with this sophomore release. The intensity of the playing has definitely gone up and I don’t know whether or not the first one softened me up, but this album felt coherent from the first moment I heard it.
What I particularly like here, as with all the bands I really go for, is that these musicians are all contributing towards the common good, and yet there is a tension there too…. a six-way tension that is always threatening to pull the whole thing apart. This feels like music that is somehow held in stasis with all these forces acting upon it.
And there, for me is the rub. Because while this album was recorded earlier than that, this is very much a record for the time of lockdown. This feeling of stasis, of being stuck in a liminal place, really reflected how I felt when I left the certainties of everyday life and entered what was, to start with, the twilight zone of lockdown. I could feel the forces of my past and current life working on me and pulling me out of my usual equilibrium.
Perhaps as a result of those perceptions this also feels to me like a very claustrophobic album… there is a massive amount of power there but it feels like hardly any of it is escaping… it’s isolationist and brutalist at the same time… the sonic equivalent of an old Soviet arms silo in the middle of a very dark forest, powerful yet almost impenetrable.
Once you are inside it however something amazing happens. The whole thing just opens up into the most glorious waves and eddys of sound which just drag you into their fields of consciousness.
This kind of happens as you make your way through the album. ‘Passover’ starts with a massive explosion of sound… it is primal and it just grabs you… you immediately feel yourself being thrown into the middle of that force-field and held there… not quite knowing whether to resist or go with the flow… it’s then when you realise that there is going to be far more to this album than noise… but nuance and some pretty fine tunes. It would be an impossible task to go through the sort of bands that this reminds me of as six musicians bring together their collective hinterlands… but I just wanted to give a shout out to Blurt whose sound really shone thorough this record for me with Colin Webster’s sax really adding subtle layers here…
After that ‘Skimmington Ride’ seems to go off in a different direction with a step down in pace and a slightly more considered feeling to it… that’s before the band move up a gear. Bloody hell there is so much going on here, but a word on Dan Chandler’s vocal which I thought sounded like a wonderfully off-beam mix of Cave, PiL-era Lydon and Mallinder all held together in a sort of nebulous whole. The track itself just builds and builds with each cycle, with Ollie Knowles keys driving the band forward to the next level again and again… There is a massive desire to break out… but you can never leave.
‘Valentine’s Day at the Gym’, which was released on that day this year, is a proper stomp through with noise guitars and the rhythm section of Chandler’s drums and Jason Stoll’s bass banging out the sort of foundation which virtually reaches the roof… this is a great example of the band being together but also in tension as you feel the different instruments swirling round without ever finding a way out. This is so concentrated as the number builds up without ever finding a release… what a workout.
The surprisingly named ‘Betting Shop’ begins with a massive bass line which just locks you in at the start. It’s a good job because you feel as if you are being pulled all over the place with this one… like trying to walk across a wind tunnel as the track waxes and wanes in its intensity… grabbing you again and again with its high points.
‘Need Battery’ initially feels like you’ve reached escape velocity and are finally getting out when a sudden drop pulls you back into what sounds to me like some sort of postmodern dub… here dystopian fragments of sound gradually cohere together in something that you can hold onto. Probably the most challenging track on the album, this really tests the mind’s ability to make sense of it… however once you find the groove it is absolutely glorious and you don’t want to let go.
Which brings me to the final number, ‘Garden of Eden/ 2000AD’. This is one big bad motherfucker of a track. The motorik riff on this is nothing short of filthy… forget ‘Autobahn’, this is the Chernobyl ring road… and as it moves on it brings you closer in a spiral of despair… deeper and deeper into itself until it gradually begins to lead you out again towards the intersection as the sax and keys gradually come in… from then on you know it’s going to happen the road dissolves and you’re in some fucked up purgatorial club where the inhabitants are engaged in some sort of ritual movement that is half voluntary and half not… again tension… stasis… liminality… then it’s just a matter of when?
…bang on seven minutes after the band has bridged it slams back into gear in one of the best musical moments for me this year so far… what an absolute fucking ride… both this track and the album as a whole… two minutes before the end and all that tension just gets released and BAM!
This, then, is some album… it’s a real ride that takes you all over the place. You always feel as if you are contained within its sphere… a bubble of otherness inside your lockdown experience… intensified through the necessity of headphones while everyone is at home. This is escapism… but it’s also an intensification of reality… a dark nether world that weirdly feels like home.
‘Type II’ is available now from Rocket Recordings here.
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