Theme - No Emotions Catered ForTheme, featuring the duo of Richard Johnson and Stuart Carter, return with their fifth album, No Emotions Catered For. We neglected the previous albums of these ex-Splintered boys, Valentine (Lost) Forever and Poison Is (Not) The Word, the latter which featured contributions from Jean-Hervé Péron of Faust amongst others. No Emotions Catered For is something different from these former guitar noiseniks, but it does continue their fascination for improvisation, experimental electronics and eastern drones, as found on Theme's earlier albums, On Parallel Shores Removed and Our Angels Dislocated. With drones, electronics, and experimentation No Emotions Catered For is also noteworthy for its varied juxtaposition of voices, which are spoken, chanted and delivered in both English and European accents with the English vocals channelling something of a post-punk spirit. Musically, No Emotions Catered For is restless never settling into one sound for too long, preferring to continually move forward and evolve whilst conversely keeping one eye on the past. It's obvious that Theme are aware of their musical heritage (aside from Splintered, Johnson was involved in the improvised Husk, while Carter was part of the noise rock outfit Heroin as well as producing experimental ambient sounds in his solo project The Fields of Hay) and more so than their earlier releases Theme are keen to incorporate these distinct entities into their varied musical excursions.
Superficially the opening track 'Enough Is Never' features a beguiling interplay of viola, marimba, and eastern drones, overlayen with layers of looped and cut-up vocals. That however is only part of the story. 'Enough Is Never' is furnished with thudding electronic stabs, mesmeric drones, and smashed glass effects. The entire track encompasses droneology, experimental post-punk and post-industrial electronics. But it is the use of voices that are most prevalent here; with the main spoken vocal delivered in distinctive post-punk English tones, but, like most of the vocals on No Emotions Catered For, they are layered, chopped-up and subject to treatments and effects, offering different spins on the inherent messages, that seem to comment on contemporary feelings in futile and paranoid times.
Theme work so many disparate styles into a track that it often starts one way and finishes on another. Unfurling to morose acoustic guitar strum over a loose backdrop of bells the expansive 'Another Context Revealed' is a case in point. As guitars continue in Swans like monotony Lukasz Kozak and Olga Drenda, in a series of passages of accented vocals, occasionally shadowed by a chant like accompaniment, ponder topics such as religion, god, family, love, amongst others. Is it a poison? Is it a cure? It's all a matter of context, we're told. The experimental touches, treated clarinet bleeps and airy hissing drone that appear underneath gradually take centre-stage just as it switches to field recordings of lapping water before settling into a vivid concoction of rippling water and oscillating eastern drones. With the addition of a drum rhythm it begins to take the skeletal shape of a rock band but rather than develop it further it simply fades out - which given the twists and turns the track goes through the ending is quite surprising.
The tolling bells and atmo-electronics that open 'A Past Forever Sick' quickly give way to heavily processed voices and nightmare droning. But it's the vocals that span the entire track that really carry this. From sinister whisperings through spoken tones to an almost English folk chant delivery constantly questioning: "where will it end?" What that is, is never made clear, Theme are dealing with abstract forms here. Clarinet blurts and electronic effects pierce the churning drone making this sound like an experimental folk take on early Current 93 maybe? It's not the only track here that shares an affinity with early Current 93 - not that Theme are trying to ape Current 93 it's just one reference point within their ever-unfurling sound. But even though it's neither occultic nor ritualistic the looped and almost chanted voices of 'Logic Is (Not) The Answer' ruminating on the role of logic and science are vaguely reminiscent of Steve Ignorant's contribution to Current 93's Nightmare Culture, where electronic experimentation went head on against a punk fuelled vision. Theme seem to come down on the side of truth, as at one point they let slip the words "the truth you cannot deny". The constantly seeking questions are posed over a miasma of drifting drones and treated viola sounds and naturally given the restless nature of No Emotions Catered For that description doesn't hold true too long as pulverising distorted throbs and aggro tones ("deny yourself") more akin to the recent power electronic vision of Sutcliffe Jugend and even Theme's earlier incarnation as Splintered appear and shift into frequency drone noise before becoming subsumed by krautrock electronics.
I'm taken aback by Theme's surprising sojourn into almost neo-folk territory on 'Dream Your Dreams', with its light finger picked acoustic guitar playing and husky singing tones particularly reminiscent of Changes and others in neo-folk fields. Here, though, the jaunty folk styled guitar is accompanied by synthetic strings shifting into spoken voice over queasy electronics and shimmering synths, like a lo-fi Coil, recalling 'Are You Shivering' from Musick To Play In The Dark. With pounding timpani drums the whole thing shifts again as the spoken words reciting the title are augmented by female vocals, over crystalline drones pierced by looped orchestral stabs. It's a nice beguiling twist combining nocturnal visions and fantasies, slightly removed from the more abstract sounds and words that make up No Emotions Catered For.
Even though it doesn't all work No Emotions Catered For is nothing short of ambitious. While acting as a distillation of their earlier output No Emotions Catered For seeks out new possibilities while casting the net wide in terms of reference points. Current 93, Coil, Changes, Somewhere In Europe, Sutcliffe Jugend, Swans, Flux, Philippe Pettit are some of the names I hear here but Theme aren't regurgitating sounds they're melding them into new shapes, with a clever juxtaposition of voices and wordplay. I'm not always clear on the viewpoint Theme are arguing but I guess the answer can be found in the context. This is by far the best release I've heard from Theme. No Emotions Catered For is released on Idioblast on vinyl in an edition of 250 copies, with the first 50 including a pro-CDR of the album and three bonus tracks from the same sessions. For more information go to Fourth Dimension or email firstname.lastname@example.org