artifacts of the no-audience underground: cathal rodgers – thirty-nine years of decay

August 26, 2012 at 1:59 pm | Posted in new music, no audience underground | Leave a comment
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Cathal Rodgers – Thirty-Nine Years Of Decay (Striate Cortex, CD-r in handmade packaging, Striate Cortex, S.C.52, edition of 50)

Right, there is plenty of musing to come so I’m starting with the spec: this release by Cathal Rodgers, formerly Wereju, consists of a hessian pouch in which can be found a plastic wallet.  This wallet contains a mounted photo, a printed card wallet and a CD-r all featuring the same illustration (see above).  Also included is a smaller card wallet containing an insert featuring the tracks titles, contact info etc.  The package is as plushly produced and cleverly thought out as you’d expect from Striate Cortex but the pouch and the blood-smear colour scheme give it a slightly edgy, ‘outsider art’ feel too.

You might think that the structure of the album – five thematically linked drone/noise pieces – and track titles that chime with examples from my own back catalogue (Rodgers: ‘The Days Become The Weeks And The Weeks The Years’, midwich: ‘months, years’ etc.) would have me nodding in vigorous and immediate approval but no, this was a very slow burner.  In order to explain why it is magnificent I have to account for why at first I didn’t like it.

Some context.  For a while now two big themes in my life have been frailty and mortality.  My depression is an ever-present background radiation but I only hear it hissing when I am very tired or stressed.  Otherwise I’m fine, thanks for asking.  Some of those near me are not so fortunate.  A dear, lifelong friend has terminal cancer.  Another, even younger, is recovering from a shocking, debilitating stroke.  A third, retired but robust, just dropped down dead for no reason a couple of weeks ago.  An elderly relative has been in hospital following a fall.  Even Anne’s pregnancy has not been cause for unalloyed celebration as she had horrific ‘morning’ (really ‘all day’) sickness which meant she couldn’t keep down food or drink for six weeks.

Contemplating these events (and these are just the headlines, there were others – ask me about being punched in the face on the way to work the other day) has left me in a puzzling and conflicted mood.  Almost all of what I feel about the business of life – its grandeur, glory, delight, absurdity, wonder, sadness, pain, grief – has one reason, one cause: my love for the people around me.  This is, I suppose, what it means to be a grown up and, at the ripe ol’ age of 40, has finally filtered through to my consciousness.

Whilst figuring all this out I have been listening to stuff I was given at (or since) the SLI/Striate Cortex gig, including this album.  I kept returning to releases that cut through my mood, that distracted me from it, that ran counter to it.  This did not.  In fact it so mirrored my state of mind that I almost did not hear it.  ‘I don’t like this,’ I thought, ‘nothing is happening.’

But how wrong I was, how silly.  The reason I had trouble processing it and the reason I did not fully appreciate its quality was that I was already overwhelmed by the mood it creates.  Over the last week or so a break in the clouds has allowed me to step back, go at this again with fresh ears and reach some proper conclusions.  Thirty-Nine Years Of Decay is artfully constructed, beautifully evocative and emotionally harmonious.  It is melancholy without being maudlin or sentimental, gruffly realistic without being unkind or gratuitous.  It is the sound of someone trying to process difficult notions about time, about aging, about mortality and taking seriously the enormity of the challenge.  For the record: I am talking about layers of pedal-loop throbbing, scything guitar and/or synth drones, high tension metallic pulses all beautifully recorded and elegantly balanced.  A point is being made eloquently and convincingly.  It is an album of the year contender, for sure.

I’m sorry to report that this is already sold out at source (hey Andy!  How about arranging a downloadable afterlife for sold out SC releases?  Bandcamp?  I dunno.  Could raise a few quid…), though some copies apparently remain at Norman Records.  Cathal’s Sonic Drift blog can be visited here.

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