Monday 11 June 2018

Bark Psychosis: Codename: DustSucker

Brace yourself, here comes the tiresome Velvet Underground analogy… Bark Psychosis were never blessed (or burdened, if you're that way inclined) with record sales. Their two albums and a handful of singles and EPs probably sold about as many copies as Ed Sheeran has sold of his latest offering while I've been typing this. Instead, they seem to have become the Grand Poohbahs of "post-rock", a slightly confusing term as doesn't "rock" have to stop before things can be "post" it? Somebody, get me the head of Semantics on the phone, right now! I digress. The point is, this most low key of bands (seriously, they make The Blue Nile seem like Kiss) are now the name to drop in certain circles. Fortunately, Bark Psychosis can back up their "seminal" status with genuinely excellent work.
Codename: Dustsucker, originally released in 2004, was the band's second album, coming hot on the heels – a mere ten years – after their debut. 2018 sees it reissued on this years cutting edge format – vinyl – as a lovely, gatefold sleeve clad, double disc set. When the album was first released, Bark Psychosis consisted of founder member Graham Sutton, a set of unspecified drum loops performed by a previous drummer and whoever else Sutton could find. Not a promising start. But guess what? Codename: Dustsucker absolutely delivers.

When one hears the term "post rock" used so vigorously about a band, one fears the worst. The best one can hope for is endless, aimless noodling with 24 bars of a tune followed by an unspecified, but probably never-ending squall of distortion and reverb devices, artlessly prodded at by pale, white boys. Bark Psychosis bring the noise, but at least they have the good manners to do something interesting with it. "From What is Said to When it's Read" is a case in point, opening with a strummed guitar and a simple bassline, it unfolds into something slow moving and lovely. In keeping with the conventions of the genre, the vocals are mixed so low that they're barely a texture. Subtle shifts and changes of emphasis keep this unassuming, mid-tempo piece moving forward and, more importantly, your attention doesn't flag for a second. Just when you think it needs a lift, along comes a blizzard of guitar noise. As opening tracks go, it's quite a statement. "The Black Meat" and "400 Winters" are almost conventional, there's the occasional shard of noise used as punctuation, but you can hear the words and whistle the tune. There's even a bit of Miles Davis trumpet action occurring. In fact, "The Black Meat" sounds like a slightly more aggressive Sade backing track, that is, until it all breaks down towards the end and then it sounds like the middle bit of "I'm Not in Love" played by people with the worst hangover they've ever had.

This is way more than background music for the "OK Computer" generation. "Miss Abuse" is genuinely unsettling with lots of ominous rumbling and an almost comical synth line combining to make something brooding and eerie, which I'm sure was exactly the point. "400 Winters" however is a soothing Slowdive-esque, languorous interlude with a gorgeous whispered vocal. It's nearly six minutes long, but it really should go on forever. Wisely, Sutton has condensed all the glitchy nonsense to one, easily skippable track. "Dr Innocuous-Ketamoid" is just over a minute of what sounds like Velcro fastenings being ripped open while someone pounds out a marching beat in the next room while holding down a key on a malfunctioning Moog synthesizer. The next track, "Burning the City" sounds a bit like Nick Drake. Go figure, as the young people say.

On Codename: Dustsucker, Bark Psychosis have got the balance exactly right. There's enough weirdness to capture and hold your attention and enough structure and melodicism to keep the tunes memorable. It's also beautifully produced – a good, old fashioned headphones album. You too can join the ranks of beard-stroking tastemakers everywhere by owning this album and talking about it loudly in public. The great thing about it is that it's also a genuinely fine piece of work.