Action Beat & G.W. Sok – Not for the Faint of Heart or the Hung Over
A Remarkable Machine, the new collaboration between British noiserockers Action Beat and G.W. Sok – frontman of legendary Dutch postpunks the Ex – is the rare album that’s so intense that you can only listen to it once all the way through without taking a break. Some people will take one a lot earlier. It’ll clear a room in less than a minute. That’s why it’s so awesome.
Throughout the album’s ten tracks, the band works a surrealistically assaultive, paint-peeling formula. All the guitars have a ton of icy reverb on them, one of them more watery and menacing, the others typically more jagged, or muted, or percussive, cleverly separated between stereo channels in the style of 60s psychedelia. The changes eschew both major and minor chords, landing uneasily between the two, often with eerie close harmonies rubbing up against each other and shedding off otherworldly sparks.
There are also multiple drummers in the band: the songs typically start out with a single drum track and add more as they go on. The bass is trebly and often gets subsumed in the current of poisonously fluid guitars, or the stampeding drums. And what the hell Sok is talking about is never clear. His snidely articulated, mostly-spoken lyrics rise and then sink into the murky mess behind them – the effect only raises the menace. You have to be in the mood for this, and if you are, it’s transcendent. Otherwise it’ll give you a headache.
The centerpiece seems to be a Kafkaesque account of a tortuous execution machine, a theme that works perfectly with the mix of sawing, stabbing, frantically pinwheeling guitars. The opening track, Spoonfeed Hell, builds its wash of Daydream Nation-era Sonic Youth tremolopicking until the guitarists are completely out of gas, and that’s where it ends. Noisy scratches alternate with echoey clangs and firebombing flares throughout Judgment Letter, while bent-note wails, hints of funk and allusions to Public Image Ltd.’s Second Edition dominate Heap of Clay. Dig the Hole gets a catchy Silver Rocket riff that the band takes into screechy staccato territory.
Reverb-drenched squalls, elephantine snorts and a brief hardcore interlude alternate in the aptly tilted Pork Butcher’s Knife; likewise, the low-key Disappearing Man disappears quickly. Loops rise to a scream and then disintegrate into unhinged free jazz on Great Unfinished, while Citizen K recalls both vintage Sonic Youth as well as the Jesus & Mary Chain’s earliest experiments in noise. The album ends with its longest and ironically most accessible track, One Another – after forty minutes of fingers-down-the-blackboard shrieks and wails, one of the guitars hits a real, live major chord and the band moves uneasily into a facsimile of a stadium rock anthem. It seems to be sarcastic, of course. To say that this is the best album or most whatever album of the year is beside the point: it’s in a class by itself and will probably someday be regarded as a classic, at least by the people who can stand to listen to it for more than a few minutes at a time.