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JFK - Weapon Design

Weapon Design is something of a devastating listen. Anthony Di Franco has a long history, first recording as JFK and Ethnic Acid before undertaking bass duties for Skullflower initially appearing on their debut album before becoming a full time member around the time of IIIrd Gatekeeper. We've previously focussed on archive JFK releases such as the compilation La Bas: 1987-1992, while criminally overlooking his Nganga album released last year on Chondritic Sound. These days Anthony Di Franco aka JFK is usually found within the ranks of seminal UK noise group Ramleh, alongside its founding member Gary Mundy. Released on vinyl by Fourth Dimension Records, who have also released titles from Kleistwahr, the solo project of Gary Mundy, Weapon Design is very different to the archive release La Bas: 1987-1992, released by Fourth Dimension Records some 5 years ago, which compiled a number of unreleased tracks along with the two tracks from JFK's 1992 single on Fourth Dimension Records. Weapon Design is stark, punishing, clinical, incisive, in its rendering of beats, synths and noise. But it's the deft layering of electronics and noise and those unruly beats which help to make Weapon Design so compelling. Direct and unflinching, this is a mean record where everything is precision aimed to devastating effect.

'Secret Orders' unleashes a series of repetitive hollow pummels over a streak of indistinct shaking drone. Revving electronic stabs push it forwards sweeping up airy atmospherics and gestating frequencies set for lift off, rumbling with short bursts of harsher careering noise passages. Simple, stark and effective; it carries an air of foreboding the sense of malevolence unmissable. That hostility, reflecting the current three front war being fought today within the realms of information, media and the military, is something Weapon Design continually unveils with each track. The pounding split electronic beats of the title track sound like a malfunctioning pinball game given a Ramleh-esque noise veneer captured in its waves of gushing electronic distortion. Beats ricochet powerfully between channels, the entire track fizzing, searing and scorched like overheating machinery.

As we enter the demilitarized zone, 'D.M.Z' attains a sense of momentum and almost accessibility throbbing to layers of skittering synth shudders spliced with the roar of ripping textures. Unleashing an assortment of analogue squelches and sci-fi effects it's clear JFK are shaping noise and rhythmic textures with a keen sense of adventure and innovation in their deftly controlled compositions. Lithe, streamlined and brutal, 'D.M.Z.' may have an eye on the dancefloor but that other eye is watching and recording your every move. But if the earlier tracks carry elements of discord and paranoia, 'Reality Slicer', the opening cut on side 2, is the total headfuck. Rolling speedy clipped rhythms slip, skip and skitter around a bombardment of cut-up tones, drones and frequencies. Everything is in complete disarray. This is the information overload of today where everything is true and everything is fake, depending, of course, upon your disposition.

Weapon Design isn't all about brutalist beats. 'Nameless' casts a glance backwards to eighties industrial cassette culture when Anthony Di Franco first began unleashing his music on tape as JFK and Ethnic Acid. Based around a primitive drum rhythm and sustained distorted drone, 'Nameless' travels close to the noise floor of early UK electronics layering synth based noise sounds over a nascent rhythm. You can imagine the lumbering bass tones of the early output of JFK which would wade through this but this is a different JFK to the extent that Weapon Design foregoes guitar and bass for an album made purely from hardware synths and drum machines.

The final three pieces on side 2 rely less on rhythm but are no less forgiving in their execution. 'Weapon Design II' casts slabs of squelchy electronics against a light synth drone and slight rhythmic slice. Much of the thrust of this one comes from a synth layer which continually emerges from behind the clipped rhythmic electronic squelch and continually cuts, eventually immersing itself in a noise slipstream. 'Interference' is just that. Incessant and insistent beats hammering away inside your head, like the ongoing barrage of competing opinions found in the press and social media which clogs your faculties, continually ramping up the pressure with an unsettling combination of beats, shuffling noise textures and controlled electronic frequencies before achieving logjam captured within the dark psychedelic squall of analogue noise.

Weapon Design closes on the tense and menacing 'Pseudo Erotics' setting a stark heartbeat rhythm amidst a squall of brooding electronics and hissing frequencies and analogue squelch.

Weapon Design is certainly an album for these times. Listening to this at points I'm reminded of the Mark Stewart album As The Veneer of Democracy Starts To Fade. While that album released in the dark days under Margaret Thatcher in the mid-eighties revelled in noise, dub electronics and polemics, Weapon Design while solely instrumental seems to operate in a similar state, the sense of dread, paranoia and barrage of information is palpable. Weapon Design isn't just about the military industrial complex as it is about the ongoing media and information war being waged between competing global factions. And yet there's nothing overtly harsh here. This isn't noise. And those beats don't mean this is a dance record either. JFK have created something special in its combination of synths, noise and beats. Weapon Design is brutal and necessarily so, especially when you consider these troubling and turbulent times we are living in. Weapon Design is released in a limited run of 300 black vinyl LPs. Recommended. For more information go to Fourth Dimension Records