Album Review: The Psychotic Monks – Private Meaning First
“You can’t understand the accident,” reckoned legendary English philosopher Francis Bacon. “If you could understand it, you’d also understand the way you were going to act. But the way you’re going to act is unforeseen.” As pretentious a reference point for a 21st century rock band that nugget of wisdom may be, it’s latched onto by wildcard Gallic collective The Psychotic Monks as they combine abstract purpose and unhinged improvisation on mercurial second album Private Meaning First. The results are (un)predictably never less than engrossing.
Picking up where they left off with fascinating 2017 debut Silence Slowly & Madly Shines, this nine-track collection saw them decamp to an isolated farmhouse in the French countryside to play off the isolation and claustrophobia of life in lockdown for the purposes of crafting a piece of even greater density and intensity than before. The result is a range of sonic moods that take in Swans’ bold experimentalism, the textural dexterity of Sonic Youth, the slump-shouldered swagger of post-punk icons PiL, and even Throbbing Gristle’s shadowy electronica. Throughout, oppressive atmospherics pervade everything, conjuring a sense of dystopian dread.
Opener The Pale Dream layers synth on top of old-fashioned piano like latter-day Radiohead, but it’s the seven-minute Isolation that gets things started properly, with discordant riffs stabbing through a static swell before an avalanche of squalling guitars crush to a close. From there, all bets are off. A Coherent Appearance sounds like garage rock reinterpreted by some short-circuiting AI, while Minor Division is an eight-and-a-half minute deconstruction of Joy Division-alike ’80s goth-rock that veers from shadowy groove to outright distortion in the style of NIN’s weirdo modern classic The Background World. Emotional Disease doses ’60s psychedelia for a stomach-lurchingly bad trip, before Closure sweeps through a wave of abrasively cathartic industrial that would have even Daughters covering their ears.
It’s a deliberately unwieldy, wilfully abstruse listen, almost certainly designed to drive away casual listeners. If you’ve stuck around log enough to hear the weirdly brassy post-rock of A Self Claimed Regress segue into spectacularly dissonant, near-16 minute closer Every Sight, though, chances are the long and undulating trip will have been rewarded with a sense of brain-beaten transcendence. Proof that spontaneity is no excuse for compromise.
For fans of: Swans, The Jesus Lizard, Sonic Youth
Private Meaning First is released on November 27 via FatCat
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