Cultural Amnesia - Bad MeditationCultural Amnesia have just released their new album, Bad Meditation, as a free download from Bleak. Cultural Amnesia were first active during the years 1979 and 1983 releasing three albums (Video Rideo, Sinclair's Luck, The Uncle of the Boot) on cassette during the heyday of "cassette culture". Although the three members of Cultural Amnesia (Gerard Greenway, Ben Norland and John Peacock) identified with industrial / post-industrial music their sound on the cassette albums and subsequent appearances on cassette compilations went way beyond that marrying post-punk electronics and experimentation with the nascent beginnings of synth-pop. Original cassettes have rocketed in value; largely due to the association with a teenage Geff Rushton who would later became better known as John Balance of Coil. Geff Rushton, at the time editor of the fanzine Stabmental, played a significant role in Cultural Amnesia - supplying lyrics, arranging releases, providing contacts and recording on one or two occasions. In recent years Cultural Amnesia have been subject to two retrospective compilations with two volumes of their work issued on vinyl as Enormous Savages and Press My Hungry Button. After a 15 year hiatus the trio returned to recording in 2004. Bad Meditation follows This Is Not Your Shape, the first full release from the revitalised Cultural Amnesia - although a number of new recordings first surfaced on a bonus CD with the limited edition version of Enormous Savages and then on Enormous Savages Enlarged, alongside selections from their early eighties cassette releases. We may have neglected to review This Is Not Your Shape but Bad Meditation, a contemporary take from these survivors of the post-punk days, shows there's still a lot to like about Cultural Amnesia today.
Electronic rhythms together with jolts of guitar along with clever, lyrical wordplay show there is continuity from their early cassette releases, even though the cheap Casio and Bontempi keyboards may now be consigned to the loft. The vocals remain cold, detached and delivered in a bleak spoken monotone. Listening to Bad Meditation it's clear that the desire for experimentation, which characterised their earlier output, continues unabated. The form may have changed but the approach remains consistent.
You can hear it in the opening track, 'Look Around' where from processed bleeps and rhythmic clicks it moves into discordant rhythms, with shredded guitar fragments that stalk the deep tones delivering the obtuse searching lyrics. It's a great start and it gets better with 'Moving Through Traffic', underpinned by some smooth Kraut electronics. There's also some damn fine funky bass thing going on here amidst passages of guitar twang and keyboard chime. In amongst the experimental synth-pop tracks, there always was a funk element found within their earlier lo-fi tracks.
Cultural Amnesia's discography is littered with personality based tracks ('Blind Rag', 'Where Has All The Difference Gone', '(Let's All Help Solve) Gary's Problem'). Here over an elasticated bleepy pulse, the voice forced, rhythmic, and at times vocoed, fires off lines about the protagonist who may or not may be our odious Prime Minister: "Dave will give us back our dreams, He promised this, He promised me, Dave will make our leaders pay, He promised this, He promised me". The rubbery and disjointed electronics are augmented by playful keyboard sequences and the occasional burst of angular guitar but the ending, at the hands of our Dave, is naturally bleak. The short abstract lyrics of 'My Philosophy' are delivered over reverberating guitar twang with added electronic crunch. Like most of Bad Meditation the production is cleaner and crisper, but the stark wavering vocal here is reminiscent of Cultural Amnesia's earlier tracks such as 'Kingdom Come'.
'Little Boys Like Big Machines' is a sanguine take on consumer culture and the desire for perfection but with Cultural Amnesia there's a twist, and that twist takes the form of credit: "Welcome to the shop of dreams, (Little boys like big machines), You can buy most anything, (Little boys like big machines), You can get a line of credit, (So much credit, so much credit), Many plans to suit your pocket, (So much credit, so much credit)." Even with guitar surge and waves of frequencies the pulsating electronics and vocal delivery recall the Human League and in particular 'Being Boiled' - as well as the Cultural Amnesia cover of this from 1982 which remained unavailable until its appearance on Press My Hungry Button. It's a great track, and parts of this, to my ears at least, sound refashioned from Cultural Amnesia's earlier version.
For a group so often associated with an idiosyncratic approach to experimental DIY synth-pop the title track marks a rare and surprising sojourn into drone territory - the nearest comparison I can think of from Cultural Amnesia is 'Beautiful Song' from Sinclair's Luck. Glistening, lingering waves offer something surprisingly different to what might have been expected. There's also a mellowness to 'I Sleep Better' where a slow, disjointed rhythm of metallic clanking and soft bass pulse contrasts nicely with the hesitant clinical vocals, that takes off into passages of half-sung tones amidst some guitar effected playing. 'I Sleep Better' and the instrumental title track may be low-key and melodic, but 'All Fallen' careers to loping rhythmic beats, collapsing guitar notes as voices are spoken and massed continuously proclaiming "it's all broken up, and it's all broken down". Direct and explosive this is another great track on Bad Meditation.
In an earlier review of Press My Hungry Button I referred to the track 'For All Your Needs' as sounding like Suicide if they were from an English countryside village. But even within the confines of Bad Meditation 'Break Loose Your Bonds', adapted from a letter written by Vincent Van Gogh to his brother, marks a change in approach sounding like experimental electro-folk, with words half-sung in folk fashion over keening electronics, loose acoustic bass, with passages of spoken vocals over ringing acoustic guitar. It's an interesting approach that brings a contemporary comparison with Coil and a sound that sits nicely with the ongoing folk revival, and especially the retro electro folk propagated by the Ghost Box label. Quite different to what I've heard from Cultural Amnesia it's an approach I hope they pursue on future releases.
The artiness to the words and sounds, steeped in art rock and post-punk electronics, which was often subsumed by the lo-fi quality of the earlier recordings is prevalent on Bad Meditation. The influence of This Heat, Cabaret Voltaire and early Human League is easily detected here, given a polished, contemporary sheen that allows their desire for experimentation to come to the fore on the warped pop sensibility of these songs. Bad Meditation, the first of four new albums to be released by Bleak, is a wonderful introduction to the new works of Cultural Amnesia. It could be argued that Cultural Amnesia never received the recognition they deserved for their earlier releases. The reinvention of their back catalogue has been overseen with a diligence, perhaps, at odds with the short run production of these releases but the quality of Bad Meditation shows that Cultural Amnesia deserve more than a footnote in post-industrial genealogy. Available as a free download, it's worth paraphrasing lyrics by John Balance of 'Here To Go' from Sinclair's Luck: "Do it now, Do it later". Either way, just do it as it is well worth seeking out. Bad Meditation can be downloaded from Bleak or from Cultural Amnesia on Bandcamp