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'After America'

Simon Crab
CD Fathom records. Fathom 04. 2015
With 'After America, Crab essentially picks up right where his band left off (though sans funk), offering up a distinctively kaleidoscopic and uncategorizable fantasia on the evergreen theme of America's decline. I was not quite sure what to expect from Crab after what was essentially a decade-long hiatus, but I am very happy to report that After America seamlessly embodies the very same "anything and everything is fair game" aesthetic that made late-period Qualk so great. What Crab does is very different from self-conscious genre-hopping though: there is no "look what I just did!" showiness or attempt to blow my mind with how adroitly he can juggle seemingly disparate threads, nor is there any clumsy appropriation of "ethnic" music to heighten the exotic or psychedelic aspects of these pieces. Instead, Crab just sounds like an artist with very wide-reaching and unusual tastes coupled with the ability to skillfully assimilate those elements into something all his own. That is a truly rare combination. Curiously, there truly is no common factor that unites After America's best moments: sometimes Crab's bizarre synthesis works brilliantly, sometimes it just works well. My personal favorite piece is probably "Saccades" which sounds like a blearily soft-focus, slowed-down hip-hop anthem. The following "Wintex-Cimex 83" is another stand-out, combining an ominous, mechanized crawl with wild live drums and a languorous flute melody. I suspect that both Discogs and I may have those two song titles reversed, however, as there is a 20-minute piece called "Saccades" that Crab released in 2013 that includes part of the alleged "Wintex-Cimex" above. In any case, they are still both great. Yet another highlight comes much later on the album in the form of the woozy guitar and organ reverie of "Pareidolia."

Elsewhere, Crab successfully delves into a noir-ish strain of dub ("Useful Idiots"), sublimely hallucinatory and submerged-sounding ambiance ("Foreign Objects"), ominously robotic sound art ("Stammheim"), and gently burbling electronic grooves ("For Jian-an"). In other places, such as "A Whole Distant World," Simon and long-time collaborator Andy Wilson weave something that resembles an achingly beautiful film soundtrack augmented with field recordings. There are also a few instances that recall Crab's work with Bourbonese Qualk, such as the sinuous groove and druggy haze of "Kropotkin." In still other pieces, After America sounds like an ambitious evolution upon that past work, a feat perhaps best exemplified by "Lullabye," which sounds like a dub techno piece that has been shattered and stretched into skittering otherworldliness.

With very few exceptions, Simon excels at just about everything he tries with After America. While there are a few pieces that seem weaker or less inspired than others, the album's only real shortcoming is a highly subjective one: Crab rarely allows any of the individual pieces much time to grow and evolve; rather, the album is a collection of short vignettes that explore just one theme for a few minutes until a new vignette appears. However, it is abundantly clear that that was a deliberate artistic decision rather than a compositional failing, so it is not particularly fair to critique After America for what it is not (a collection of songs). Crab seems to have achieved exactly what he set out to do with this album, composing a complex, unusual, dynamic, perfectly sequenced and occasionally moving suite that adds up to a very rewarding whole. I would have been happy just to have Crab back to making albums again, but he unexpectedly seems to have returned at the height of his powers. ('Brainwashed' Magazine USA)

Track Listing:

  • Linear B (04:08)
  • Saccades (06:29)
  • Solace (03:01)
  • Kropotkin(03:01)
  • Stammheim (02:45)
  • Elite Syncopations (02:21)
  • Minor Swing (03:07)
  • Useful Idiots (02:10)
  • Cobra Mist (04:10)
  • Portland Symphony (03:29)
  • Static (02:31)
  • Lullaby (03:26)
  • For Jian-An (01:49)
  • Foreign Objects (02:57)
  • Pareidolia (05:06)
  • Pervetin (03:54)
  • Minus 20 (02:10)
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'Demand Full Automation'

Simon Crab
CD Klanggalerie gg269 and LP Fathom Records, Fathom 04.
OUT NOW!
Demand Full Automation anticipates our world at a crossroads where either machines liberate the working class to pursue meaningful tasks, or automation is used as yet a another tool to subdue. Enter this instrumental, beat-driven (near) futurist narrative expressed through electro-acoustics, acoustic instrumental or a fusion of both. Part of the artistry here are the varied textures culled from instruments like steel drums, gamelan and strings, among other instruments, while all electronics and synthesis are meticulously programmed from scratch. Added to the sounds are percussion from the jazz drummer, Milo Fell and spoken word pieces from the Russian actress and poet Ksénia Lukyanova–Emelyanova.

Demand Full Automation is Simon Crab’s second post-Bourbonese Qualk recording, though vestiges of his two decades long project still haunt this work. Indeed Crab both founded and fronted ‘Qualk and over the years dwell in the musical nether regions of power electronics, post-punk-no-wave, ethno-jazz, industrial, electro-gabber-techno, and post-rock among other styles. Throughout, Qualk’s music is always politically informed with keen analysis in a world largely gone mad with resource wars, environmental destruction, and merciless consumerism. With the untimely demise of guitarist, Miles Miles in 2002, came the dissolution of the band. Crab then went on to co-found the electro-experimental SunSeaStar with fellow audio adventurer, Andy Wilson. It is in 2014 when Crab’s first solo album, After America, where his talents for musical narrative surface. After America too anticipates a world where the USA is no longer the global cultural hub as it melds with a variety of ethnic styles and electronics.

The follow-up, Demand Full Automation heralds an era where machines dominate almost all facets of our lives, and the attendant struggles this entails. Demand... can be pensive at times, but is mostly driven, upbeat and relentlessly marches towards progress. Demand... expresses the idealism and liberty possible from technology, contrasted with the oligarchies who expect voluntary enslavement through obedience of blind consumerism. Nothing is wrong with demanding full automation, it just depends on who is doing so, ‘us’ or ‘them’.

Track Listing:

  1. E11
  2. Drop
  3. I Asked
  4. According to Plan
  5. Numbers Station
  6. The Long Days
  7. Demand Full Automation
  8. Dark harvest
  9. Kubark
  10. Be Quiet
  11. Nothing to Hide
  12. Permanent Emergency
  13. Light Shining In Buckinghamshire
  14. Exit

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