b a r k p s y c h o s i s are:
GRAHAM SUTTON • vocal, samples,
guitar, piano, melodica, hammond.
DANIEL GISH • keyboards, piano, hammond.
JOHN LING • bass, samples, percussion.
MARK SIMNETT • drums, percussion.
When you started in 1989, to place the music in the time period, I can’t think of any contemporaries. What were some of the sounds that inspired you?
G: Me and John had been doing it a couple of years before then started in 1987. When I was 14,1 was into Sonic Youth, Butthole Surfers, Big Black and those hardcore bands. Swans. ..It kind of has quite an impression on you when you're at that age. When we stated it was just a complete sheet of noise. We were like a hardcore band more than anything else. In 1994, right now, I feel like we're a hardcore band, but hardcore it terms of attitude. 1989 was a hard time. I was turned onto all these great bands. This really loud guitar stuff. But for some reason I just flipped one day and I realized silence could have a much greater impact than loud noise. I've been into dub stuff for fucking ages. Space and silence are the most important tools you can use in music. I just got really obsessed with that. Sonic Youth I was always realty, really into. Mostly their early stuff. I think they lost it after EVOL The more sort of textural stuff. I was always really into classical stuff.
It's funny that you mention the classical stuff, because the very first review that was published about (the band) in an old fanzine I did (Brassneck, 1990), the guy I did the mag with wrote "Classical music for the noise generation."
G: That's pretty cool.
The only contemporaries I can think of from 1989 were AR Kane and Talk Talk's Spirit of Eden. 1989 was the year of noise.
G: For me 1988 was. 1989 was the year of silence. It's weird being bracketed into a sort of indie market. I don't listen to indie music. I don't like it and I never have, apart from a few bands. I have always been into more jazz and classical stuff. It's weird that you mention AR Kane and Talk Talk because I'm really into them...I've been into Talk Talk since I was 14 years old...
Since they were a New Wave band.
G: Yeah! When you're 12 years old you don't think about it. You just think it's a good tune. It's a weird thing about AR Kane as well. One of the weird things about being in this band is who approaches you or the people we meet. I've known Rudy from AR Kane for quite a few years and I'm going to be working with him shortly. I've also been working with Lee Harris from Talk Talk over the last year on a side project called Shwaa. They just turned into great friends.
What's the side-project?
G: Shwaa. It has Lee Harris from Talk Talk which is like bass and drums, then a bunch of different people like me, Matt Johnson from The The... It's loads and loads of different people and it's a really interesting project.
When will that come out?
G: They're in the process of signing a deal. They've being doing it for the last year and a half. They've finished one album and almost completed the second. They want to have two albums under their belt before they come out and play live. So they really swan and play live and put out the second one at the optimum time or whatever.
What is up with Talk Talk? Do they wait until Mark gets his stuff together and then they record an album and disband again?
G: It's more when Mark feels like doing something. Last time I saw him it was just before Christmas (1993) and I know he's written a bunch of stuff. But he's not actually in a position where he needs to do a bunch of stuff. He's financially very well off and all the rest of it. It could come down to when the time seems absolutely right. Even if that means every three or four years. At the moment he's looking around for a producer and stuff. He's looking for different people to work with.
How did the relationship with Cheree start and then we'll talk about how it ended.
G: I must have been 15 then and I bumped into Nick at an underground station, close to where I lived. I was getting on the train with some drums. And he was playing in this band called The Judas and Daisy Chain, which was just playing Jesus and Mary-Chain covers. I was chatting away with him and he knew I was fucking around with tapes, making weird sounds and stuff and he said would you like to make a record. I was 15 or 16 then and I was like "Fucking brilliant." Initially we did this flexi with the Fury Things and Spacemen 3.
I've seen that but they charge a/of for it.
G: It's crap. It's not worth the fucking bit of plastic it's printed on. It's complete Bollocks. Bollocks, bollocks, bollocks. We literally recorded it in 5 minutes.
What year was that?
What happened after that?
G: We put out one single with him, All Different Things. After they got some good response from the flexi they said, OK let's go in and do a 12". At this stage we were so naive we didn't know how things worked, how the whole music business worked. We did two nights of working, from 12 to 8 and gave it to them. They put it out, got a good response, played a few gigs and did Nothings Feels after that.
Was All Different Things difficult to record with all the dynamic shins? When I've tried to tape it for friends, I can't do it.
G: That's the first time we went in the studio properly, really. Basically, I had my hands on the faders and when it kicked in, I just fucking went to the faders, I didn't know anything about rt then. When we we're mixing "By Blow" we ended up distorting the DAT and we didn't even fucking notice because it was just monitoring so loud in the control room. It's nice, naive and all the rest of it but it's pretty crap at the same time.
Did you engineer and produce it yourself?
G: Apart from the album and the single Scum, which we engineered ourselves, everything up until then involved using a recording engineer, but he's just there to tell him what to do sort of thing. Use what mics, what EQ settings and all the rest of it.
"All Different Things" and "By Blow" seem to have bridged the gap between your noise phase and your quiet phase. With "I Know" and "Nothing Feels" (the second 12") being the first complete step to what you're doing now. Though, "All Different Things" & "By Blow" seem even more extreme than the songs you're doing now, with the extra bud and son dynamics, I was wondering if "I Know" was a complete reaction to the first single?
G: It's never been as contrived as that, it's always been where I am heading. You don't know where you're heading and you're just sort of there and you've done it. That's the most exciting thing I find about making music. You wonder what you'll be taken in by next, whatever drives you to make music. The 2nd single was what two tracks we had knocking around at the time. At the same time, live wise at this stage, it was completely different. It was very, very loud and extreme both ways. Aner the second single, that was the last we heard from you for a long time.
What happened between that and Manman?
G: It's a really complicated trail of events but basically after the second single at this point, Cheree was going through some changes. They had gotten a couple of backers in, business men. Up until this point, the group didn't know what the record business was all about. It is a business, entirely.
You were 18 when Nothing Feels came out, right?
G: Yeah, I guess so. I just didn't know how things worked. I didn't know how press officers worked, I thought if you got a review of a gig, I thought it was just that someone had stumbled along and had seen it and liked it. But, yeah, these backers came in and they gave us an album contract which we signed without any legal advice or anything. Because we trusted Nick (at Cheree) this guy I had known for a few years. He started off doing fanzines and all the rest of it. So we signed up and then this really weird chain of events that would take hours...I'd need to talk to you face to face over a few beers about it. Basically, we found out these backers were just a couple of cons, really that had screwed so many people, and one of them was involved in pornography and you know all the rest of it. This happened like two or three days after we signed this album contract with them. We just turned around and said "No, fuck you, we're not going to do anything with you. We're just gonna walk" So then it took a year to extricate ourselves from this contract.
What did Nick go through at the time, because I know Cheree has folded but he has reformed as Che. What was his position this whole time regarding Bark Psychosis or were his hands tied?
G: He was basically with them. It was a real us against them situation at the time. I see Nick every now and again and I get on with him. It's alright cause they're gone. He was just sort of taken in by the whole fucking shit and the business scum. I was completely new about how things worked. I've never been to see a fucking lawyer before. I had to go get lawyers and seek legal aid and that's when Rudy from AR Kane came onto the scene and was looking after us for a while and managing us and trying to help us legally and all this stuff.
After you were finally able to get yourself out of that contract then, why did you choose 3rd Stone instead of AR Kane's label HIARK?
G: Right, well for a while there we were supposed to be signing with Rudy's label but at the end of the day we couldn't do demos with them or we couldn't record anything for them because he was worried about getting sued by Cheree. That's what these business men types were like. Then this guy Gerald, A Guy Called Gerald, right (laughter), said I want to meet with you, I want to work with you. He didn't know anything about the Cheree situation. He had been trying to contact us for ages. I explained our situation and he bought us out of the contract. He had been managing Spacemen 3...
G: Yeah and a few other people. So he (Gerald) seemed to have his shit together which, Nick, God Bless him, he hasn't got a business head. So he got us out of our contracts and he got us into the studio as soon as possible and we did Manman.
Well then, wasn't Manman recorded almost 2 years after you recorded Nothing Feels ?
G: I'm not quite sure really.
It seemed as, just because of the time period between recordings, there was no continuity between the second and third singles? Manman seems like a very odd release. I remember only one ot the three songs ("Blood Rush") really sounding "Bark Psychosis-like".
In fact, the two faster dub songs, well the only thing that reminds me of them now is the b-side to Street Scene. "Reserve Shot Gunman." Those three really stand out from everything else you've done. Could you talk about the recording of Manman and the idea behind those songs?
G: The whole thing about being in this band is never repeating yourself. I've always tried to surprise myself and other people as well, fucking around with people's preconceptions about what you're about and stuff. I really get a real huge fucking kick about giving people the wrong impression. Or twisting things around. Like, it might sound initially sweet, but it ain't. Or vice versa.
Well you explained it in a way a bit earlier by saying you had been into dub music for a long time. Now that dub is a buzzword, I think when Manman came out, dub still wasn't widely accepted.
G: Right, which is weird since it's been around since God knows when.
There wasnt the music paper validation of it which a lot of people wait for.
G: I don't read the music press at all.
I'm talking more about people who were into the first couple Bark Psychosis records, and then heard Manman and then were surprised by it.
G: I don't want to shy away from wherever my, whatever goes. If that means going up a blind alley and I do something and I turn around a year down the line I think "Oh that was a waste of time" or whatever, I still want to pursue things. We've got another EP or Mini-LP to do starting the 13th of March and I know it's going to> be completely different to the album. Sonically, it's gonna sound a lot more electronic and a lot more dubby. I'm fascinated that the goal posts shift around so much.
What about "Reserve Shot Gunman", when was that recorded?
G: That was recorded at the same time as the album. It's weird, that track took the longest to do over the last year. That track really did take a whole year to do. It was really bizarre, it went through a lot of different changes and things.
It seems like it was inspired by techno music. Is that the case at all?
G: Kinda, yeah. I do like a lot of techno stuff. I really dig computer music, generally and I know this next thing is going to involve a lot more sampling. Although the album doesn't sound like it, a good 50% of it was just running from computer.
G: No not at all!
What was controlled thought the computer?
G: A lot of things. Guitar things. Moving things around, you know cutting things out, then moving them around. Bits of vocal moved around.
More of the editing in a way.
G: Kind of, yeah. There's also a lot of samples of instruments involved. But we do it in a way that is idiosyncratic to us. Most people, to get a big reverb sound, will record something and then run it through a reverb unit. But we've taken the trouble to record in a church. We did Scum there. We were fucking around for a month. We set a PA up in there and puts sounds out through that. Part of the PA is set up at one end of the church and we set a bunch of mics up at the other end of the church and captured that. When you set up mics, you capture more than just what is being recorded. You capture an ambience or a feeling as well. It's all about creating something unique and of the moment rather than just another bland factory preset.
I wanted to ask you about some of the effects used on Hex. They sound more like they were run though a digital effects machine as opposed to the earlier songs, (which sounded more like analog delay) but one of the things I thought that was great is that it sounded natural. When I hear Slowdive, I know they're using the rack systems.
G: Yeah, all that heavy processing.
But "Hex" has much more controlled sounds than the earlier records but they didn't sound processed. What kind of effects did you use?
G: Very, very little. Very little indeed. In fact, all we used was a plate echo, which is a 1960s thing. Its brass plates suspended on springs. It's how they had echo on old Motown songs and that sort of stuff. Not because, we're retro chic, we just liked the sound of it. There's very, very little digital effects going on. But this next thing might be processed to fuck as a reaction to being so austere with digital effects with the album. It's like when you do special effects for a film, you're not supposed to notice that it's not a real coach going off a cliff. All the keyboard sounds for the album, they were just played through a PA in the church and when it came to mixing we just put the two faders up, stereo left and stereo right, that's it.
I mean more, what you had your guitar plugged into, not how you mixed the record.
G: Oh right. I had a tremolo pedal, a chorus pedal, a delay pedal. That's it. But I really haven't played much guitar in the last year. I've been mostly fucking around with samplers. I'm more interested in pure sound, than just a guitar or whatever.
Still, the album, while mixed with a computer, was played by humans, using analog equipment and then assembled in the computer. I think the more successful techno tracks still bring a human edge to the music.
G: Yeah, that's right. I like a lot of techno, that's the stuff I feel most excited about at the moment. Although the music is supposed to be really futuristic, it's actually quite retro. It's like the equipment they use, it's turning into the guitars for like anorak stamp collectors, trying to find this particular vintage synth.
The more successful techno groups have taken the analog sounds, which were trying to be so futuristic at the time and the fact that analog doesn't have any built in parameters, it's still subject to some randomness. I think people who are really talented can get a similar effect on digital, but I think most people will go for the easy route and it sounds extremely sterile.
G: You are so right, You are so right (well thank you). Have you ever heard the band Insides at all?
Yes. I don't really like them.. I find them too sterile.
G: I've known them for 3 years now and we liked them as Earwig (previous name) but yeah, you have to use technology carefully. I'm into doing something much more subversive, where there is a seamless blend between the computer and the acoustic instruments.
Yeah, my dream and ideals are to combine the sounds of the Human League with the songs of Nick Drake. Pretty folk songs with fucked up sounds.
G: I fucking love Nick Drake.
Yeah, I love beautiful, melodic songs with crazy sounds and that's why I really got into Bark Psychosis in the beginning because you are still really song oriented. Then when it became more drifty it was not showey, it still involved the listener, not like King Crimson, where you're supposed to sit there and say "Wow, listen to that technique."
G: Oh yeah like, "Wow look at that guy, he can really fucking play." I hate all that. Sometimes people compare us to Pink Floyd and they are just a muso thing. I'm more interested in feeling really.
Let me back up here and go back to Scum. It really sounds like a blueprint for what "Hex" became. You turned on the tape recorders and all play off each other around a motif, like a jazz band, and the lyrics sounded as if they had become equally improvised. Sometimes the lyrics almost sound conversational now, and to me that seemed to have started with Scum.
G: Right. We had a single to do but we didn't have any tracks that were suitable for a single. We wanted to do something completely new and put ourselves under a certain amount of risk. So basically we hired a load of gear and set up sort of a make shift string and sticky tape kind of studio under the church where we rehearsed for ages and in the church as well. We had the gear for ten days. We didn't have a track when we started, so we just set ourselves 10 days to do a 12" and that's what came out.
How did you get to record in the church?
G: Basically when we hooked up with Mark, when we left school, he had been working underneath the church for awhile in the crypt doing community schemes and all the rest of it. Those are finished now, but he still has access to the rooms, so we set up under the church. We did that for awhile. Then the vicars changed while we were still underneath there and this new vicar didn't want to fuck us off at all. It's cool, this new vicar is into the Grateful Dead. We had rehearsed in the church itself every now and then and we had really just gotten off on the vibe from it. I'm not religious, although I have been when I was really small, it still has an impact. It's a working church, it's not an abandoned church. So we said "Can we record some stuff in there" and they said "Yeah, fine" amazingly enough and that went really well.
Did the vicar see the cover to Scum or hear the final copy?
G: Mark may have played it for him. I really don't know. We were in and out there for 10 days for Scum, then we were in there for a month doing Hex. We couldn't have put him off too much anyway.
So Scum was pretty much all improvisational then?
G: Yeah, very much so. It's probably the most spontaneous record we've put out. There was no part except for a few rough galactic ideas. That's how we'd written the past few years, just jamming as a band underneath the church. 99.999% of it you wouldn't use any of it but the vibe was really good at the time so we decided why not just record a jam sort of thing. That's the thing, we tend to try and make life very difficult for ourselves for some reason. I'm not sure why.
Were there any over dubs on Scum or was it all live?
G: 90% of it was recorded live and then there was a few things. Vocals, some piano, some ambient guitar, a few different samples & stuff. The first 3 112 minutes of it was actually just the ambient mics left up. We had recorded a few different takes of things and those distance mics were just left up from a previous jam.
About 8 or 9 minutes into Scum you can hear someone say "Shhhh'and then there's all those crowd voices later on... Are those samples
G: Oh right, the gospel singers. That was just a found thing at the church. On one of the nights we were recording there was a Pentecostal meeting going on in the back room so we sort of sneaked up to their door and just tape recorded them because it sounded so brilliant..
So now it's just you and Mark (the drummer) what happened to John (the bassist)?
G: Last year was quite an intense year. The most intense fucking year of my life. The longest I had been in a studio was 10 days for Scum, but this was like a year of my life (for "Hex"). It was quite hairy at some points. He felt he just needed to get some distance from it once we'd finished it. I think he's moved to Holland now to do Spiral Tribe or squat over there or something. Daniel has gone too, who plays keyboards. He's gone to Israel for a bit. He's going to come back though and I still want to work with him. I'm not sure about John at the moment. It's just been a fucking intense year, though it might not sound like it on the record. It's been a real head fuck.
Yeah, you're lyrics don't seem mellow, they are really tense. At times you sound like a misanthrope and other times sad... Obviously, it has been 4 years since Nothing Feels came out and a lot has changed for you since then, but that track almost seems happy or escapist. And on Hex the only song that really echoes some of those sentiments is "Big Shot". Where it seems like an escape song, about just getting in the car and driving away. But the other songs seem so tense, like "Scum" for ex-ample. Is that about a particular person, or your legal troubles or is it about a general feeling.
G: "Scum" came about as a general disaffection with general sentiments from records that were being shoved down my throat. Crap house tracks. I just remember this one track had this chorus like "Everybody's free" and it made me want to fucking puke. I just wanted something completely the opposite of that and turn that sentiment around.
The music papers always just hinted at the legal problems you were having so...
G: That year was murder. When we were trying to get away from Cheree it was fucking hell. I had a lot of problems after that year. I was squatting and stuff and did a lot of things I shouldn't have done. It's caused a lot of problems. The legal problems were long behind us though when we made Scum. But there were a couple of other things going down when we were making the album.
Lyrically, "Hex" just has this certain amount of desperation and "Get out my face type of thing"
G: Right, right, right. I think that's a pretty fair comment! I think you've hit the nail on the head really.
The lyrics seem blunt and conversational rather than overly poetic. You just say, "Yes get out of my face" instead of hiding it. I was wondering how you go about writing them.
G: Lyrics come from pages and pages of stuff whittled down over...It's about the barest minimum all the time. I'm really into cut-ups as well. You mean cut-ups in the way that the surrealists and dadaist artists did cut-ups?
G: Yeah definitely. Just how words relate to each other. I'm quite an analytical person generally. I'm just interested in introducing that random element to things. Just writing something, then cutting it up and throwing it up into the air and reassembling it and seeing what happens.
I remember on the song "The Loom" the lyrics seemed almost like an afterthought. It seemed like you recorded the music then tried to fit it the words.
G: You mean it didn't gel sort of thing.
No, by inferring that they don't gel it would mean they don't work and that's not the case. It seemed like you were trying to fit square pieces into round holes. I thought it was an interesting experiment in a way.
G: Originally there were a lot more words going on in that track, I just whittled things away. If being more effective not singing anything, I'd much rather do that. I'm very minimalist. I consider myself to be a hard taskmaster and very difficult about things. I’ve just been getting more and more into words and how you can fuck around with language. I'm sure that will be more and more evident over the next couple of years.
I think it's interesting that Bark Psychosis have always had borderline instrumental songs, but you've never come out with an outright instrumental until "Reserve Shot Gunman" and "Pendulum Man"....
G: There were vocals on that for awhile "Pendulum Man"). Then I decided to scrap them.
The title of the song seems like it was named after the opening which sounds like a pendulum swinging...
G: Well Pendulum Man was just my nickname over the last year. I was mood swinging around like fuck going from one extreme to another.
One of the things that I think happens is that people tend to forget about your words, because the music is so unique and involving and the vocals are pretty quiet they miss the entire experience and extremes the music and lyrics represent with each other.
G: One of the things for this album that I hadn't done before was I wanted the lyrics printed on the sleeve so it's sort of there in black and white. I've spent a year whittling away and adding things and I want it to be there so people can work from that. Sometimes, musically, it is better for the voice to be down low in the mix or high up, at the same time I still want the words to be there. I'm really happy we did that.
What are your practices like?
G: We haven't actually done that for quite awhile now. For the last 5 or 6 months we just write stuff on the computer and take it from there really. This next EP is going to sound even more computery, because that's what I'm happy with at the moment. It's more like constructing a blueprint. You don't actually leave it on computer, you're just constructing parts and chords changes or whatever then you take it away and introduce the random human element and you're capturing the performance and the feel. I find the computer a fucking brilliant thing.
I think it's great that you are mixing jazz, with the stereotypically sterile element of as computer and you are coming out with as music that is completely flowing. I think it's much more about your talent and not so much about technology.
G: I'm very much into using technology in ways it hasn't been used before. Flow is such an important thing. The last year, so much time has been spent working on feels of things, like rhythm and things, trying to make it all loose yet tight as possible. Trying to get that balance. We wanted to write and record a whole album rather than a collection of tracks. I wanted it to be a complete flowing work, from beginning to end.
Is that why 'Reserve Shot Gunman' ended up as a B-side because it was so different?
G: That's exactly why. It just didn't fit. There's another track that is like the most extreme thing we've recorded noise wise, but it's not going to be released at all. It's just a live track we used to do, recorded the same time as Hex and was going to be on Hex but we dropped it at the last minute and recorded another track to replace it.
What's it like to play live?
G: We’ve had all sorts of different reactions. The worst time was when we played indie fucking discos, when the DJs stop and we come on it's like party fucking poopers. We've even had stage divers, which was very, very bizarre, indeed. The whole gig thing is part of the indie ethic which I don't get on with at all. I don't feel part of that thing at all. I really hate going to gigs, I find it a waste of time so we are trying to do something really, really different which comes from going to raves and all night events and stuff like this. So in January we went out with a feature film as a support with the band. It was this surrealist animated thing called The Secret Adventures of Tom Thumb". I'm much more interested in recording. Maybe because I'm a control freak, because you can capture something with a certain atmosphere and you’ve got it, even if it takes a week to do it to capture that 30 seconds, but trying to recreate that night after night you just can't do it and it's quite frustrating.
Hex sounds like you took a lot of time to arrange it. Like "Big Shot", doesn't that have a vibraphone in it?
G: Yeah, that was just my friend's dad. This really, really old guy who used to play in a lot of old war time swing bands for kids going out for a dance in London. He hadn't taken his vibes out of his front room for fucking years, he just plays for his own pleasure, as a hobby. So we got him to come down and it was fucking brilliant, and I want to work with him again.
One of the great things about the vibes on "Big Shot" is that I think you found the acoustic instrument to your guitar sound. They are so complimentary.
G: Yeah, definitely.
Also the piano.
G: It's just that physical thing. Things can get very sterile if you just use samples all the time and it's that physical, random, chaotic thing. But I'm also very into digital technology and how you can manipulate sound with that. The vibes track on "Big Shot" was a whole mixture of 5 or 6 different takes and we sort of just chopped it up and reversed bits and pieces and mixed it all back together again. So we mixed technology with that chaotic human element of a person playing.
Did you just learn how to use samplers and the computer?
G: We've had samplers to some degree on everything, from All Different Things onward. I used to work with a sound engineer in a dance studio in the center of town here. It was just a matter of getting the money to buy the equipment. When you get the technology, the sky's the limit.
Is Bark Psychosis your only form of income or do you also work?
G: No, I'm signed on. Officially I'm unemployed. I'm no better off signing to Virgin than I was a
year and a
half ago. I'm on the fucking breadline mate, just doing it for the love of it.
So when's the next EP or Mini-LP coming out?
G: April 20th or so over here. That's one thing, I'm into working reasonably quick at
the moment. (It's an EP called Blue and its out now).
"Hex" (Caroline) 1994
"Independency" (UK 3rd Stone) 1994
Having released their first single ("All Different Things") when the band members' average age was around seventeen, East London's Bark Psychosis hardly seemed likely candidates to cause critic Simon Reynolds to identify an entirely new musical sub-genus ("post-rock" found its first mention - at least since pioneering culture writer Ellen Willis used it in 1968! - in his review of "Hex"), much less reshape the context of pre-millennial rock'n'roll. However, the quartet managed to do both. Over the course of five singles (four of which are collected on Independency), the group's music slowly metamorphosed from spacious rockscapes (the percussive "By-Blow" recalls some of Talk Talk's better moments) into truly epic visions of ambience (the ultra-sinister twenty-three minutes of the vaguely improvisational "Scum"). With the release of "Hex", the band's music - as well as its reputation - solidified.
Ironically, though Bark Psychosis had earned a bit of notoriety for lengthy songs, the tracks on "Hex" are hardly the double-digit exercises in mind expansion the earlier singles were. Rather, excepting the nine minutes of hazy ambience called "Pendulum Man," the songs seem decidedly more structured than their predecessors. Although still working outside of the typical expectations of "rock" music - no choruses, no solos...hell, not too many verses or repeated refrains - "Hex" shows a band that has learned to employ the dynamics of dilation without resorting to noodly, space-rock jams. The music is delicate and accomplished, relying on atmospherics that are reminiscent of early A.R.Kane (minus all the post-Romantic angst drama) or the enveloping pizzicato of Durutti Column. Beautifully tense, strangely relaxed and unexpectedly visionary.
Oh, it's good to find a record company with a sense of humour! A couple of years after Bark Psychosis disappear
in a puff of defeated resignation at never having pushed their unique and challenging musical vision sufficiently to the public, 3rd Stone release the second compilation of singles, B-sides and versions from a band who only ever released one album. "Game Over" contains a substantial amount of material that appeared on "Independency" (a previous collection of early tracks) and offers merely two rare pieces - one a dispensable, Robbie The Robot-style cover of Wire's "Three Girl Rhumba" - thus fleecing the decidedly underground (i.e., small) fanbase that is utterly devoted to the band's
memory. But seeing as it is the miraculous Bark Psychosis, and any memorial is welcome... rant over.
During their brief career, Bark Psychosis elicited some comparison with Talk Talk. The latter, having begun as a semi-manufactured New Romantic band, increasingly became wilfully experimental and their music sounded as if it was becoming more and more harrowing and emotionally exhausting to produce. The difference is... Bark Psychosis' music started out sounding as if it was an emotional and intellectual purge that was driving its players to collapse. Not being star names, the rumoured tales of exhaustion, near-nervous breakdowns, walk-outs and splits that accompanied the recording of their only album, "Hex", remain, perhaps thankfully, little known. Truly, this was sadly meant to be a band that shone brightly but burned out quickly.
Significantly, then, this compilation opens with virtually the only Bark Psychosis material that followed "Hex" - the single "Blue". As a final milestone, not to mention headstone, it is unsatisfactory. An exercise in New Order balladry, gleaming electronics and Hooky-style guitar in place, the only traces of BP's supreme weirdness and atmosphere exist in the overwhelming blasts of data-noise/DJ scratching in the breaks between verses. But it does provide a great opportunity to read between the lines. Was this an attempt to get airplay? A last sigh of exhausted resignation? An attempt to lighten the mood of a band in its death throes? A pointer towards Graham Sutton's new drum'n'bass persona of Boymerang? Wonderfully cynical speculation, but who knows? "Blue" is poignant, but nothing more.
Apart from an unsatisfying, muted live take of "Pendulum Man" - which, instead of burning ominously like the album version, appears to have been recorded under a thick layer of cotton wool - "A Street Scene" is the only track on "Game Over" to have been taken from "Hex". As such, echoing that album's minimal-jazz late-night Talk Talk feel, it doesn't really fit here: otherwise, it's as remarkable a mood-song as ever. The heavy motoring bass drives the track through dark, deserted streets, as brass and oboe reflect the rushing orange blurs of streetlamps overhead. The romance of the city, in music - it's an urban thing, you understand.
What "Game Over" arguably does well, from the viewpoint of a Bark Psychosis novice, is introduce crude "types" into the wide range of their material. So "I Know" is one of their rare, perfect acoustic numbers that always succeed in standing on the edge of falling apart. Even with the aching whalesong that drifts in and out of the echoes of voice and acoustic guitar, this is perfect walking-home- through-the-city-at-4:30-a.m. music. Graham Sutton even gives a tired little sigh at the end. Aaah. Sob. On the more ethereal side of things, "Bloodrush" is a slow-burning, hesitant track, like a school of luminous deep-sea jellyfish heading for home. Every time the translucent guitar or Sutton's hushed multi-tracked voice finally breathe life into aching melodies, all of the elements evaporate into the air again, too overcome and exhausted to continue. Finally the band find it within themselves to build an impossibly lovely, tearstruck flicker of melody, with shimmering waves of percussion as a mournful lyric repeats: "You never stop, never learn".
BP were also a very rhythmic bunch, but they toyed with the beat and weaved in and out of it. "Manman", though, is the most metronomic it gets. Deep vocals, pulsating electronics, sturm-und-drang guitars. A little (whisper it) Goth-like. An urban nightmare - a midnight ride on an out-of-control tube train...
It's "Murder City" out there. Where did all the haze and hush go? To show how adaptable they could be, the beast of BP unleash a nine-minute thrash with minimalist pauses. The unhuman thing is how precise it is. Unlike thrash, it is almost emotionless (no criticism) and glacial. Every moment of guitar clang, distortion and drum thud seems mathematically programmed - in this sense, the closest comparison is the precision rock of the similarly late, lamented God Machine. "Murder City" is rage and frustration, but utterly and terrifyingly controlled. (We can, therefore, forgive the fact that the track ends with something quite close to a drum solo).
However, "Scum" is the masterpiece, as well as the major occasion on which Bark Psychosis finally managed to bring forth superlatives from the music press, not least at the audacity of releasing a twenty-one minute single featuring four distinct "movements" (this was 1992, before post-rock and the return of experimentation. Before Tortoise's "Djed". Just think about that). The first few minutes rely on minimal atmospherics. Silence plays the lead instrument. Then a simple, welling guitar chord. A distinctly loose, jazzy drum pattern. Sutton's hushed vocal. You feel relaxed, familiar with the surroundings. But then a disturbing, incredible drone grows, mingling with a thousand voices all talking at once. You are almost physically pushed away from the centre of the music. Stop. The reassuring anchor of the original music returns. Then it all happens again. Drone. Voices. Drone. Voices. Sound upon Sound upon Sound. Help.
That's just the first thirteen minutes. The last eight offer a relatively relaxing atmosphere. Thanks.
We have to be honest, I suppose. What boundaries remained for Bark Psychosis to break? If we find BP's music so emotionally overwhelming to listen to - no, scrap that, to take part in - can we really expect them to have gone on pushing ever further? My cruel reply is "Yes" - there's no-one else following their lead.
"Game Over". Game? You call