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Friday, 26 August 2016


We are all dying, just at different speeds.

Musician and producer John Congleton continues to earn a place as one of my favourite lyricists with his, technically first, solo album UNTIL THE HORROR GOES. First, in that he's using his own name along with 'and the Nighty Nite', though his name may already be familiar to some from his days fronting discordant indie band THE PAPER CHASE.

Congleton has produced a wide mix of artists from the exuberant hip hop of Missy Elliott to the bludgeoning metal of Tombs, and it is this eclecticism that informs the actual sound of UNTIL THE HORROR GOES. Battering drums and squealing synths give way to distorted beatbox-style percussion and swathes of ethereal keyboards, whereas some songs (such as 'Who Could Love you Lucille?') are almost anti-genre, being as they are almost completely devoid of any coherent, recognisable style other than 'John Congleton being weird'. That is not a criticism. 

Congleton has stated in interviews that this album is very much about "the human condition", and luckily for us it's a suitably fatalist view:

"to me the human condition (the water in which my music tends to swim) is in some ways the slow realization magic does not exist. the idealizations one has as a child are chipped away by the lubrication of life; we slowly discover there is no santa claus, no salvation as we were promised. until the horror goes is in some ways the musical manifestation of that screaming child rejecting the intimacy and connection for which it cries; the endless quest for the sublime uncovering only the inane. the feeling of aloneness in the universe while connecting with everyone else feeling alone and laughing at the simple irony we all feel alone together." 

(taken from HERE).

It's bleak, but that aforementioned musical eclecticism saves it from being a dirge: 'Animal Rites' starts the album by kicking the door in with pounding drums before throwing up mental keyboards that sound like an old computer game playing freeform sax solos. 'The White Powerless' follows with the suggestion of grinding synths before quickly morphing into a demented 1950s ballad interspersed with blocks of filth. It's like Mr. Bungle have returned and it's glorious. 

Following in the footsteps of The Paper Chase's own wilful chaos, I was concerned The Nighty Nite would see John Congleton abandon the skronk (the use of discordance and dissonance to create rhythm) of that band for something more palatable, but thankfully UNTIL THE HORROR GOES presents a different kind of noise. The nightmare orchestral passages from The Paper Chase reappear here but in much smaller, refined doses, as does the dramatic-yet-haunting pianowork. The guitar gymnastics of the past have been replaced by barrages of synth, though there are still guitars used to give certain songs an extra kick or punch.

The biggest difference though, is in tone. Whereas The Paper Chase traded on creeping horror and paranoid menace - threat, in other words - The Nighty Nite is all about the immediate terror and quick realisation of an impending death. There is a LOT of death on this album, and murder. Some of it is explicit, such as in the aforementioned 'Lucille' with Congleton's desperate cry of "Death to everyone!"; other times it's more implied, such as in the haunting closing track 'You Are Facing The Wrong Way' with its refrain of "I require a body bag". 

This track in particular deserves to reach the heady heights of the strangely similar 'Hurt' by NIN - a somber lament about losing someone/thing that should never have been lost. "You could have had it all / We held it right in our hands / It's the truth that will slip through your fingers / It's the beauty we could have had" Congleton sings, his voice layered with a fuzzy, warped version of itself. The main difference between Trent Reznor's industrial angst and Congleton's subtle rage, however, is Congleton has this (seemingly) effortless ability to take the theme and content of his songs to an exceptionally bitter place, but one wrapped up in fantastically dark humour. "Some day this could all be yours / But you chose to remain on all fours / An enlightenment that never lingers / An existence without poetry" he continues, sticking a great big middle finger up at the (former?) object of his affections. "Enjoy being alone and miserable" he appears to say, "as you realise things could have been so much better for you."

Sometimes you can even picture him smiling as he sings lines like "You deserve to be eaten / So I hope something eats you" and "The storm is the bastard / Your face is the face it's slapping" as if he's secretly saying "You know what I'm talking about, don't you?" I could spend all day quoting John Congleton lyrics, to be honest, because they're singularly marvellous. 

If all this death sounds a tad too dark, a tad too relentless, I suppose it depends on your frame of mind. UNTIL THE HORROR GOES isn't party music, but it still holds a pleasing sing-a-long quality within many of its songs and the playful, unexpected, inclusion of unusual audio textures/production. It's like the severely underrated and unknown Meow Meow, who also excelled in writing perfect indie-pop music that they then purposefully ruined. 

"Just stay with me," Congleton sings on the album's title track, "until the horror goes." Except it never ends, does it? Can any of us find someone to stay by our side forever? UNTIL THE HORROR GOES suggests the best way to make sure this happens is if that person becomes a corpse. The body is dead but the memory lives on.

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