Friday, May 7, 2010


Bodychoke's sophomore album, the perfect bridge between the psychedelic wasted squalor of "Mindshaft" and the serene, chilling post-rock void of "Cold River Songs." We don't often get to see bands evolving before our eyes, and certainly not in such a dramatic album-by-album form as this. The changes are easy to see and the progressions make perfect sense. Bodychoke was a band that knew where it wanted to go and how to chart the necessary course.
Credit the cartography to Kevin Tomkins, part time member of Whitehouse and mastermind of noise violence overlords Sutcliffe Jugend. Bodychoke was Tomkins' attempt at more classically rock oriented material conceived from the same mindset and subject matter as his other projects. Across all of Bodychoke's three records you're treated to a litany of misogynistic destruction, gross sexual frustration, the repression of fantasies becoming dangerous outward exercises against others and a general association of sex with violence if not an outright equation. It's pretty fucked up shit, obviously, and when viewed (or heard) through the prism of noise (ala SJ and Whitehouse) it occupies a very specific sort of tonal presence, but when heard in this more traditional context (i.e., guitar/bass/drums/violin) it becomes something much creepier and far more insinuating. This isn't assault as much as it is a plan for assault and that short leap makes all the difference in the unsettling nature of the music.
"Five Prostitutes" is a fairly sprawling album, 14 songs spread across 62 minutes, showcasing a variety of sounds and ideas. There's an obvious reference to the sound of "Mindshaft" with its masses of squealing, wah'ed out guitars and maelstroms of feedback oblivion but there's also the hint of the sound that Bodychoke was developing, a more refined and stately sort of malevolence as defined by extremely minor key clean chord progressions and muted, bassy vocals. There's almost a feeling of sexual dominance or the threat of torture hanging over some of these songs in as little as the vocals and it's to the credit of both Tomkins and second vocalist/songwriter Paul Taylor (responsible for the more truly unsettling material) that they're able to convey such a dark, troubling mood with as a little as a few whispered words. Bodychoke are kind of scary in that way-this is a tunnel that goes way, way down and you'd better be damn sure that this is where you're supposed to go.
Also interesting is the decision to have Steve Albini record this monster. Albini's sound is easily identifiable and seemed a bit at odds with the band's atmospheric and dazed approach. Here, however, the two coalesce into one gorgeous ideal of pristine, naked intent. Stripped down to its barest elements the music of Bodychoke becomes even more visceral and violent and with Albini's blunt sound to reinforce those elements "Five Prostitutes" becomes a terrifying sonic experience, with no correction or apology. Everything here absolutely grates against itself, adding to the feeling of distressed uneases that the band so ably produces from the first second. By the time you reach the album's climax, the 15 minute guitar feedback apocalypse of "The Red Sea," you feel like you've been totally drained of all will, put through the proverbial wringers with little strength or resolve left. It's a wasting, ghosting experience and the fact that Bodychoke would only go on to trump this recording on "Cold River Songs" makes "Five Prostitutes" all the more frightening and remarkable.
Bodychoke are one of the best bands you've probably never heard of. Their records are mind-bogglingly awesome and there's no one out there, then or now, who even come close to sounding like they do. A singular listening experience that no open-minded person should deny themselves. Totally recommended.

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