6 October 2008
Bark Psychosis - Blue
Label: Circa/ 3rd Stone
Year of Release: 1994
Given that the genre "Post Rock" was first coined in a review for a Bark Psychosis record in 1994, it seems somewhat disgraceful that I should even find myself in a position of typing up a L&TB entry for them at all. After all, if they are such pioneers that they kickstarted an entire movement, surely the general public should be singing their praises as much as they do for My Bloody Valentine?
As ever, the truth is a tiny bit more complicated than that. Bristol's Bark Psychosis are a truly wonderful band, but their career veered all over the great musical motorway, mashing up techno, shoegazing, post-punk, trip-hop and even jazz and avant garde into the tyres of their juggernaut as if they were mere hedgehogs (Is this a ludicrous image? Of course it is). Unlike Mogwai or GYBE, they were also pernickity souls who would never settle for repetition of ideas where variation was possible. An eight minute Bark Psychosis track will meander so much that it will frequently finish bearing little relation to what you, the listener, heard at the point of entry, but will seem somehow intrinsically linked to the concept in ways which seem inexplicable. "Hex" on the B-side of this single, for example, begins with an uncomfortable and fierce three minutes of harsh, repetitive noise, which stops suddenly to expose the undercurrent to the track, which progresses slowly towards the conclusion, sounding ambient and soothing, but retaining a slight air of menace. It somehow manages to be as uncomfortable as "Metal Machine Music" but as beautiful as Eno's "Another Green World" simultaneously.
The A-side "Blue" is probably one of the poppier tracks the band ever released, but still shows imagination which was light years ahead of their peers at the time, and a keen ear for the exploration of all the possibilities. It manages to be interesting pop, electronic music and indie simultaneously.
That the band sold sod all in the way of records should come as absolutely no surprise to anyone, and that they signed to Circa (a subsidiary of Virgin) is more baffling still. Surely nobody thought this, great though it was, would ever shift units? I managed to interview them around the point "Blue" was released, and whilst I've since lost the transcript, I remember a very intelligent but polite band who were keen to gently correct me about everything I thought was good in the present music scene. At one point a member admitted that he quite liked These Animal Men, and was promptly rounded on by songwriter and singer Graham Sutton. An uncomfortable few seconds followed - but what was interesting about the minor outburst was that most other bands I met around the same time would take the opposite approach, and pretend to like These Animal Men just to seem in some way in tune with the zeitgeist. Bark Psychosis seemed much keener to set themselves outside of all the trends of the time and focus on their own particular ideas.
They went on to play a gig which was astounding, and still seems fresh in my memory even now. It wasn't as if they were especially charismatic on stage, and they even fell back on the old Pink Floyd trick of projecting Super 8 footage to give the audience some other visual image to hang on to - but it often seemed as if they were performing on a tightrope by throwing too much into the mix at once, and I stood rooted to the spot to see if they would ever come a cropper. They didn't, obviously, and they even got themselves an encore, which their tour manager said was "The first one they've had so far".
Perhaps I shouldn't have been so surprised at their low strike rate. I can't imagine a bunch of skinny indie kids circa 94 really going for some of this stuff around the provinces of Great Britain, and it must have confused the hell out of a lot of people - but through a lot of their output, material which was actually eventually massively influential to both the trip-hop and post rock movements can be heard, and even though that's starting to become acknowledged now, I still don't think it's trumpeted enough.
Oh, and talking of trumpets, that's Del Crabtree from Animals That Swim playing on all their records as well. Being in one brilliant unsung band is unfortunate, but being in two seems somewhat careless... perhaps I should start a poll for the best band featuring Del Crabtree. Although he played trumpet on Erasure's "Sometimes" as well, so it would be a rather varied poll in terms of musical genres, much like Bark Psychosis themselves.
3. Big Shot (Alice's Cheshire Cat Mix)
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