Albums Under £5: Mindswarm – Mindswarm EP (2015)/Arca – Entrañas (2016)
I’m under no illusions that I’ll ever be a powerful man, so as long as this magazine is kind enough to give me an account I may as well treat any opportunity for nepotism as my last. Mindswarm are a four-piece grunge band from Huddersfield, near where I grew up. Though often overlooked as a destination due to falling just outside the prestigious Rhubarb Triangle, it’s well worth a day’s visit to take in views of the UK’s tallest freestanding concrete structure and a rich history of machine-breaking, which I think is going to become very relevant again in the next few decades as more and more jobs are lost to automation – so covering them here seems like a good way to give back to the community. Mindswarm are raising money to record their next EP at the moment, so if there’s any time for me to flex my considerable influence as a tastemaker, it’s now.
If it sweetens the pill at all, their debut EP, Mindswarm, would be an entertaining ten minutes’ churn no matter where it was from. The EP’s three songs are busy and energetic, swinging from one speed to another as new riffs and drum sections slide in and out. Instrumental Skin is especially active, with guitarist Fabio crashing through hooks like drywall, a stormy, careening bridge between the two main songs. This style has its weaknesses – sometimes the band cycle through each section a little too fast and begin to spin their wheels a little – but when you’re caught up between something like Province’s eerie four-note strum and sledgehammer waves of guitar, it’s easy to forgive a rough edge.
The vocals, from Lewin and Sonny, match this lurching pace well, their delivery swerving along with the music. Sonny (my sister tells me that when they’re shouting it’s Sonny and when they’re regular volume it’s Lewin) skids into opener Consumption like a truck on ice, cramming syllables between stresses in a manic, howling cadence until Lewin comes in low for the bridge. It’s difficult to pick up a lot of what they’re saying, partially because of this style and partially the recording quality, so all you really get are brief glimpses of something sinister and unnatural before the veil drops again. Buildings burn, poison drips from your skin, hands grab you through the fog. I grew up with The Fall – the comparison doesn’t really hold water or even like couscous, the tone and delivery and music are all very different, but there’s enough of an echo in this ambiguous songwriting and ominous atmosphere that I’m all over it. Province is especially effective in this regard; as far as I can make out (and I may be entirely wrong, which is part of the appeal for me,) it’s a song about a civilisation collapsing, bellowed by Sonny in nightmare flashes of burning and fragmentation over the pounding guitar. It’s an excellent closer, and one which bodes well for this second EP – I’m told that the band’s best songs are still only live, and this impressionistic style could become something powerful as their songwriting develops.
Where Mindswarm is fuzzy and lo-fi but fun to listen to, Entrañas, the most recent release from Venezuelan producer Arca, sounds incredible, a submerged world of crystalline synths and rumbling, almost tangible bass, but is a brutal, disorientating listen that can feel longer than its twenty-five minute runtime if you’re not in the mood for it. Even on the rinky-dink headphones I’m using, maybe two tiers away from the pound shop, it’s frequently a physically unpleasant thing to listen to, with a gut-punch bass bomb or ragged jump cut lurking in every shadow.
On Entrañas, as with most of his music, Arca mixes icy techno with organic elements, pitched-off vocals and mutating, off-kilter rhythms that give his songs a weird kind of Frankenstein life. Here, however, the electronics are much heavier, clanging pinball-machine drums and juddering feedback, and the biomechanical vibe is ramped up into something visceral. Human voices are ground up in the machine, scattered across the track or crushed under the percussion, and the nonverbal stuff that Arca was playing around with on his previous mixtape Sheep, grunts and coos and panting, bubbles up violently towards the front of the mix, until finally the whole thing dissolves into a horrible calm at the end.
It doesn’t sound danceable, but occasionally things click together and this H.R. Giger pistons-and-belching hell situation starts to bang – a couple of minutes in, for instance, I think on Culebra, the suffocating wave of groaning from the last track is invaded by these raygun jabs of synth, and all of a sudden it becomes something you can move your shoulders to. I think some of this might be down to the mixtape’s three collaborators. They blend neatly into the atmosphere of the mixtape, sometimes to the point that it’s difficult to tell where they end and Arca begins, but you don’t have to squint too hard to see their influence on some of the best parts of the tape – the empty spaces of Mica Levi’s excellent Under The Skin soundtrack, Massacooraman’s frantic, jerk-informed rhythm, and Total Freedom’s violent bursts of noise. It’s no coincidence that the tape’s highlight is the one with the most collaborators – Think Of, about ten and a half minutes in, which takes a big sweeping string section and beats it down into a two-note siren, swinging back and forth over a thicket of cut-up drums and corroded voices.
Arca’s said that he’ll have a new album, Reverie, out before the end of the year. I don’t think he’s going to make it – the last time I can find him mentioning it is in July, when this mixtape was released – but I’m in no position to get on a high horse about deadlines, and something as powerful as Entrañas is hardly a disappointing year’s work. When I started taking notes I dreaded having to listen to something so harsh over and over, but the more time I’ve spent with it the more it’s become my favourite thing I’ve heard from Arca (&&&&& is another free one I liked, though you have to rip it off of Soundcloud – I’ve found this site useful – if you want to take it on the go). It’s not that there aren’t any catchy moments on anything else he’s done, but on Entrañas he marries the unease shared by all of his music with a brutal heft and a fierce, choppy sense of rhythm, and it gives the music punch that I hope carries over into Reverie.
Mindswarm EP is available here, and Entrañas here. Mindswarm’s fundraiser should be active here until December 18th. If you know of any other Huddersfield bands for me to plug, or any cheap music in general worth looking into, get in touch with me on Facebook.