SRMeixner – A Silent War CD Black Rose Recordings / Oxidation 2021
Stephen Meixner of Contrastate has been recording and releasing music under this solo guise for many years now and generally speaking it involves a more abstract and darkly experimental sound than that of the main project (yet some indirectly similar sonic threads too can be noted too). With reference to this latest work the liner notes highlight A Silent War had its nexus in 2020 UK Covid lockdowns and was intended as a working basis for further recordings, but obviously evolved into this standalone work. Likewise, the liner notes provide further detail on the working methodology, which was inspired by 1980’s recycling projects and involved recontextualising sound sources contributed by close associates. Six tracks make up A Silent War which includes an element of social commentary but is which is also not overtly emphasised. This is weaved within the crisply refined electronics which slot neatly under a ‘dark ambient / experimental / post-industrial soundscape’ descriptor.
The title track opens the album exudes a performance art angle, which is mostly due to the tone provided by manipulated spoken word vocals, while the minimal shimmering soundscape is occasionally interrupted with moments of melodic percussive strikes. Breathe continues and is framed around multiple electric to semi-orchestral drones coupled with a centrally placed jittery tonal texture, while further vocal cuts up referencing the track title and its thematic aspect. The instrumental track Virtue Signalling brings more interweaving melancholic drones but also includes a wonky pitch-shifting tonal framework blended with vague mechanical rhythmic elements and other manipulated tones (piano note stabs perhaps?). In maintaining the prevailing sonic theme the minimalist but incessant plodding pulse of Unfinished Business characterises the first segments before shifting off into melancholic drone territory with fragile tonal respite. We Demand Tomorrow (or business as usual) slightly differs, given it contains some forceful electricity-toned textures, while late in the track it morphs into musically playful and percussive-driven elements. As for the final track Singing About Revolution, it is a short two-minute cut and the oddest and surreal offering of the lot, to the point of being quite jarring against the tone of the balance of the album (and therefore well-positioned at the album’s conclusion). Here there is a clear nod to Contrastrate thanks to vocals provided by Jonathan Grieve, and notable the lyrics are credited to Nina Simone to close the thematic loop.
A six-panel double gatefold cover with extensive liner notes rounds out the packaging of an expertly crafted yet equally understated album of experimental ambient & post-industrial sonics.
Contrastate – Recorded Evidence II Black Rose Recordings 2020
Any new release from Contrastate is welcomed, and despite 2020 being what it has been, it has also given us both a new album as well as this compiled collection of tracks which we should clearly be thankful for. Intriguingly the title indicates this to be the second release in a series, but technically speaking there was no first ‘recorded evidence’ album. But I then assume it is perhaps referring to the False Fangs For Old Werewolves compilation collection from 2005?
Recorded Evidence II functions to bring together twelve tracks lifted from compilations, 7”EPs, and three other previously unreleased tracks. As a general observation, the tracks are presented in chronological order, spanning the years of 1993 to 2019, although the project was then inactive for around a decade between 2000 to 2010. This then means there is a difference in style and tone, where early material represents ritual ambient soundscapes, while the newer material has a clearer and sharper sonic production which includes rhythmic moments and song-like passages, but where those elements are woven into larger compositional tapestries. Early album tracks English Embers and Under The Line Laying North are perfect examples of the sound of early Contrastate, being darkly hued ritual ambient soundscapes, while the former includes a trademark monologue styled vocal line. The track Haunted located at the centre of the album from 2013 then marks a shift in the production sound and style which was evident after their reformation. With a clearer and crisp tone, here being of a sub-orchestral drone style, but with occasionally interjecting string and rhythmic stabs, while the late section has a beautifully dour film noir feel. The following True Believer is then noted as the original studio version of Have You Heard the Good News? from 2016’s live album No Eden Without Annihilation. But in a studio version is in a radically different form, with swirling textures, sparse piano melody, and prominent half-sung half-spoken vocals. Likewise, late album track The People Who Control The Information is notable as a quintessential example of modern-sounding Contrastate, featuring wonky rhythmic elements as an abstract soundscape coupled with strongly delivered upfront vocals.
Given the span of years this collection is gathered from, the production and approach to songwriting differs substantially from piece to piece. Yet given that there is literally no other group within the post-industrial underground that sounds like Contrastate, this allows the twelve tracks fit together neatly as a coherent collection of material. As for the packaging, CD is pressed in a mini-gatefold cardboard sleeve and features further detailed liners notes which provide occasionally humorous (mis)information on each of the selected tracks. A great collection.
Contrastate – An Exercise In Defascination 7”ep Black Rose Recordings, 2019
With their immediately recognisable darkly surreal soundscapes, which are further characterised by poetically metaphoric vocal narratives, Contrastate have always been an anomaly within the post-industrial underground. It has then been some time since 2012’s last full length A Breeding Ground For Flies, noting that 2016’s No Eden Without Annihilation was not an album proper, but rather a collection of live recordings. An Exercise In Defascination arrives as a precursor to the upcoming full length album, where the liner notes highlight that the two featured tracks: ‘are alternate mixes from our ongoing studio recordings for the next Contrastate album. The album concept is inspired by the Italian giallo films of 1970s’.
The instrumental title track arrives on the first side, and within the first minute manages to span cinematic synths, rolling percussion and pitch-shifted sonics. From there the surreal serpentine soundscape is derived from shimmering textures, abstracted guitars and a myriad of other sonic elements, while a shrill drone and rising strings through the later part of the tracks functions to create tensile and urgent tone. Spasmo takes up the flip side with more shimmering drones and abstracted guitars, but the mood is more stayed overall in a drugged miasma sort of way. Snippets of vocals are present but are sonically warped and fragmentary in presentation, rather than their usual focus of a central narrative based tool. Regardless, the resultant feel is a darkly surreal one.
With this 7”ep effectively being a short taster to the new album, but on their own form a welcomed slice of Contrastate experimental post-industrial eccentricity. It will then be equally interesting to see how these compositions will fit within the greater whole of the upcoming full length. As for this release it is limited to 250 copies.