Thighpaulsandra - The Golden Communion
Has it really been 8 years since Thighpaulsandra's last release 'The Clisto EP' in 2007. It feels to me he's never been away. Maybe that's because he worked on Elizabeth Fraser's solo release 'Moses' and appeared as part of her live line-up at Meltdown and featured on his constant collaborator Sion Orgon's 'Into The Dark' single in 2012 - and this year's Recognition Journal album too. Or maybe it's because he appeared as touring keyboardist for Wire in 2013. More recently he collaborated on two stunningly impressive volumes of Coil's non-musical work: Bright Lights and Cats With No Mouths: The Art of John Balance Collected and Peter Christopherson Photography. It doesn't really matter because he's back with The Golden Communion available as double CD or triple vinyl release that once again captures his eccentric and enthralling musical vision. His last couple of releases were short-run editions on Brainwashed and Klanggalerie so it's heartening to find this one on Mego, which, after listening to, may cause a bit of consternation with Mego diehards.
"And so begins the slow descent with hollow vision and intent to empty halls beyond reason" the opening lines from the first track 'Salute' almost act as a mission statement for The Golden Communion. For it is an album that continuously evolves, shifting gears and switching between musical styles and more often than not this occurs within a single track. 'Salute', itself, begins from arching drones and stuttering synths, morphing into piano notes as Thighpaulsandra confesses we "tear down the curtain to your secret world". Airy prog keys and angelic choirs appear and burst into waves of scorching wah guitar movements, as Thighpaulsandra defiantly proclaims "salute my dogs" (dogs being something of a recurrent motif on The Golden Communion) before it is sucked up into a crescendo of drones. It is clear Thighpaulsandra is more a psychedelic showman than shaman. And The Golden Communion clearly shows that in its exuberant spirited songs and vivid atmospheres, featuring his usual cast of collaborators such as Sion Orgon and Martin Schellard, with a welcome return to the fold for the Maureen Williams Quartet, along with members of Ilya accompanying on vocals.
It's nigh on impossible to write about Thighpaulsandra without referring to his work with Coil and memories of the late and much-missed John Balance and Peter Christopherson are evoked on the, some might say, highly questionable and provocatively titled 'Did He Fall?' - featuring the voice of Balance, talking about dogs, and "rhythmic interference" from Christopherson. "Down at the seaside with the weirdy beardies", the opening line, could easily be taken as a nod to Coil and their Oak Bank residence in Weston Super Mare, while the line "one of them the operator, the other one the instigator", delivered over deep stabbing synths and discordant rhythms and bleeps, seems to obliquely reference the roles of Peter Christopherson and John Balance in Coil. It's one of many touches to Coil here, amidst the tumbling electro notes and pulsating beats, with a chorus that goes "How did he fall, or was he pushed? Was there a witness?" Elsewhere passages of cryptic and humorous voices talk over rhythmic disturbance giving way to some stunning punk-funk guitar scrapings as a backing to Thighpaulsandra's high registered vocal tones. It's a dizzying delight and one of many highpoints on The Golden Communion.
Personalities aside, the Pagan pastoralism of Coil circa The Remote Viewer, where electronics were fused with traditional folk instruments, are evoked on the beguiling 'The Foot Garden'. Here the flutelike sound of the duduk is meshed with drones, capturing a sense of space age jazziness as a beat is forged around pulsing electro sequences. With harpsichord twists, electro squiggles and keyboard chime, surrounding Thighpaulsandra as he almost apes the earnest vocal tones of his former musical foil Julian Cope. In an album of sprawling exuberance 'The Foot Garden' stands as a moment of defined beauty.
That jazz feel is carried over to 'Misery' where clarinet whoops, surround the warm timbre of Thighpaulsandra, over a darker strain of electronics. From underneath a sixties organ swirl flows into a sprightly synth fanfare, swelling into something akin to pumping early 20th century circus music that somehow transforms itself into a great hypnotic end section of motorik rhythm spliced with sprawling guitar wah. However, vocally it swings between the eye-opening "pissing on your mother's breasts" chorus to some serious spoken observations on London's materialistic culture before ending on a ridiculous sing-along mantra that goes something like "sham, shimmy, wan". You can make of that what you will!
And yet Thighpaulsandra is more than capable of crafting a beautiful song, but like his long time collaborator Sion Orgon who has just released the stunning Recognition Journal album, they're more often than not bookended by extended intros and outros. The sixties acid sunshine pop of 'Valerie' is a case in point where a classic pop moment ends on a loose abstract affair, with an introduction jostling around a mass of buzz drone, sound effects and harp. Melodic and touching, 'Valerie' is a ballad of jangling guitar, reminiscent of something like 'Pristeen' from Thighpaulsandra's erstwhile musical partner Julian Cope. It, however, unexpectedly swells into a choir of mass voices, more akin to the grandiosity of Spiritualized but with electric piano it transforms once again into something closer to the classically infused pop of ELO. Nonetheless 'Valerie' is a great melodic song dressed up in musical abstractions.
Those, like me, who follow Thighpaulsandra will be aware of the "so-called" controversy caused by the homoerotic images contained with the packages of both volumes of Double Vulgar. And both 'The Sinking Stone' and 'On The Register' will do little to dampen the flames. Over skittering deep synth burbles 'The Sinking Stone' follows a shouty approach, similar to some of the tracks on I, Thighpaulsandra. Here backed by ethereal vocals from Sion Orgon and passages of rock guitar movements from Martin Schellard it disappears into drones, with sections featuring sped up lyrics of random strangeness and a closing of warped out orchestration. But it is the lyrical content, concerning a rape scene - which of course is the title of an earlier Thighpaulsandra release - which Thighpaulsandra continues to explore, that will get the backs up of the easily offended. The closing section of 'On The Register' where things are given a rock work-out won't help either. Its aggro rasp offering the non pop hook chorus proclaiming "You're a fucking paedo" on a track of scraping doomy chords, on a par musically with the title track from Double Vulgar. 'On The Register' provides a damning indictment of current sexual classification. Sure they're challenging but I don't get the criticism though. Peter Christopherson explored these themes in his photography, avoiding the negative reactions so often targeted at Thighpaulsandra.
Thighpaulsandra's debut album and both volumes of Double Vulgar featured the operatic singing of his mother Dorothy Lewis and with her death it falls to George McCarthy to provide a soaring tenor voice over the melancholic and classical keyboards of 'A Devil In Every Hedgerow' before it switches via a discordant synthesizer interlude to Thighpaulsandra to emote over tender piano notes. But it is the extended tracks that allow Thighpaulsandra to showcase his idiosyncratic approach to composition. The title track is wonderfully inventive as it flows from sombre strings to a smooth psychedelic groove. But there's so much more to it.
From a disquieting miasma of discordant strings arise sombre strings performed by The Maureen Wilson Quartet who create an impressive score. Noise interjection and wired-up effects are added to the orchestral sounds, to the point it sounds like spinning through a radio dial from Classic FM to out of tune frequency bursts. Harpsichord plucks and cello movements slide into an elongated section of sound drift as rhythms jostle with frequency drones before it summons a psychedelic groove from sultry bass touches, guitar noodling, chiming and stabbing electric piano and orchestrated vocals. There's an ostentatious grandness working over the oscillating synths here. No-one else plays it like Thighpaulsandra, and the title track rates as one of his finest creations.
The first section of 'The More I Know Men, The Better I Like Dogs' is much more improvised in nature creating something akin to a Z'ev like ritual atmosphere from singing bowls, laced with creaks 'n' cranks and passages of crepuscular piano score. With touches of Radiophonic Workshop effects, flickering electro sequences act as a jittery backdrop to a recitation of the title by John Balance. Continuously looped and chopped, and fittingly subject to Burroughs cut-up technique it eventually bows out on a minimalist piano and some John Carpenteresque synthesized electronics.
The Golden Communion is a rich offering from Thighpaulsandra. It is at turns sumptuous, enthralling, over long and long winded, but that's true of his earlier releases too, especially his sprawling and confusing debut I, Thighpaulsandra. But really what do you expect from someone who used to wrap themselves up in fake fur and lycra. Eccentric, maybe; challenging, yes, but it is rarely boring with every spin revealing hidden nuances within its unpredictable layering of sound. The Golden Communion is an unabridged distillation of the mind and music of Thighpaulsandra and around my way it comes highly recommended. Stunning cover images too. For more information go to Mego
Thighpaulsandra - Did He Fall?, video by Sion Orgon