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Thursday, 28 October 2010

Review: 'Black Friday' by Faderhead

L-Tracks Records LT006
Faderhead has built his career on bringing a funky accessibility to industrial music: he’s not afraid of distortion, in his beats or his vocals, but has proven quite willing to embrace melodicism when it suits his artistic purposes, and he has always put danceability ahead of any ideological commitment to noise. In short, his detractors would argue, his music is commercial, industrial-lite floor fodder. The truth, unsurprisingly, is rather more complex.
Most people who only know Dirtygrrls Dirtybois and TZDV would be surprised by the contents of FH albums. There are certainly plenty more tracks in there that perpetuate the vodka swilling, pussy hound, party animal persona that is the hook on which Faderhead’s public image is hung. Then there are the ballads: raw, angsty, hook filled melodies, sometimes sounding like Nine Inch Nails, and at other times (providing ammunition to the detractors) like an industrial version of Linkin Park. And then there are the tracks that don’t fit either mold, or either set of preconceptions: tunes like Mattaku from FH1, or Storm Sparks Structure from FH2, that refuse to yield any easy reading when you start trying to unpick them lyrically.
It’s something of a sad reflection on the industrial scene that this degree of diversity could be characterised as ‘sounding like totally different bands’ (as the man himself put it in a recent interview): to my ear Faderhead’s output actually has one of the more coherently individual sounds to be found in industrial music. The trouble is that the industrial music audience is used to bands that (in essence) put out the same track repeatedly with different samples, and can sound so like one another that rigid adherence to a particular stylistic feature can be the only way for a project to maintain its distinctiveness.
In the same interview (on Faderhead describes Black Friday’s production as ‘more ‘produced’, more layered … generally more dense, with … fatter sound and better mixing’; that’s one way of describing it. Another would be to say it sounds more like other industrial acts. For me, a big part of the Faderhead sound is its sparse quality, the fact that there are spaces in the soundstage, room for the beats to breathe and express their true point of distinction, which is that they are about a thousand times as funky and danceable as the stomp peddled by most other industrial acts. Here there is certainly an increase in kinetic force, there is that power that comes from a wall of sound expertly engineered to precisely fill the available headroom, but there is also a step away from the individuality of the earlier albums.
Black Friday is an album with a story to tell. The tracks are written and sequenced to a narrative structure, in which some decadent rivethead types get to the end of their wage slave week, and hit the tiles for a night of debauchery that goes horribly wrong in some unspecified manner. A short film will be released in November, with a soundtrack of extracts from the album, in which the story should become clearer, but I could pick out the general shape of it from the album.
The album opens with a pleasingly dark and twisted intro track, which might be over dramatising things a little, in the way it makes working for a living sound like forced labour under murderous conditions. ‘5pm it’s time to leave, escape from the machine’ goes the next track, which pulls Faderhead’s trademark harsh to melodic manoeuvre, and does a more convincing job of expressing the way that wage slavery crushes the human soul.
The narrative dictates the pace of the album, as it should if that’s the way he’s playing it, and so we have two consecutive ballads, laden with all the grim power we’ve come to expect from a FH ballad: I guess the story’s protagonists have come home from work, and are variously pondering suicide and loneliness, before their mutual attraction (portrayed in ‘Baby Firefly’) drags them out for a night on the tiles.
From this point on the album is pure floor fillers. The party gets going, it turns nasty, and then we’re played out with a mellow instrumental outro. Exactly what happens, and where it all goes wrong is a matter for conjecture, and there’s not much point me giving a detailed description of how I read the story. ‘Destroy Improve Rebuild’ is the album’s pre-release single, and lays it down heavy in the manner of TZDV, especially the syncopated, spiky synth figure that brings it in. ‘Aim To Misbehave’ has some of the album’s best lyrics: ‘It’s time to wear those shades at night/ Let’s be misunderstood’ is a rivethead’s manifesto, and other lines hark back again to TZDV with their evocation of a hard and dark club scene.
‘Pussy Rules’ is less easy to fit into the Faderhead oeuvre, and I predict it will both divide opinion, and become the most requested track from the album. It is, on the face of it, pretty cheesy, and it’s not clear to me whether it is a deliberate representation of the shallow emptiness of the dancefloor meat market, or an unreflecting celebration. I’m leaning towards the former interpretation, but there’s a lot to celebrate in that world as well, and this is a damn’ sexy song in it’s own right. Shaolyn’s guest vocal is less explicit than on some notorious tracks, but still pretty direct: there is vocoder lashed all over Faderhead’s vocal, which makes him come across like an industrial version of some six pack flashing R ‘n’ B lothario. I only hope the effect is deliberate.
I have no idea what ‘The Way To Fuck God’ is getting at but it’s vintage, angry, pounding Faderhead: I know this track will stand the test of time. I suspect Corpus Crisis of being the key to the meaning of the whole shebang/ story/ album. It’s lyrics suggest a frustration with, and rejection of the story so far, while it’s soundscape is full of juicy noise and harshness. But who knows?
In the final analysis Black Friday hangs together in the way an album should: it has its own specific set of production values, which means the tracks cohere sonically, and the whole thing sounds like a single work. If you are aware of the narrative framework as you listen, it contributes to the sense of cohesion: whether it really succeeds in what it sets out to do I’ll feel better able to judge when I’ve seen the film, and I have a little more idea what its intentions are.
It’s a cliché, and a dangerous one, to accuse later albums of failing to live up the early ones. It usually means the accuser’s ears are not open enough to appreciate artistic growth, although it is certainly often true that an artist’s early work has a freshness, a focus or a clarity of vision that is hard to maintain. In the case of Faderhead I think the first album, FH1, is full of potential, which is realised on FH2 and FH3. With Black Friday, he has made a real and courageous effort to move on, and find a new artistic strategy, and in many senses he has succeeded. Sadly, as I intimated earlier, I feel the success has come at the cost of some of the project’s distinctiveness.
Perhaps it is simply that the songs have been made to serve the story arc, and I should be considering the whole more than the parts, but I don’t hear any truly stand out tracks here. I love this album: there are a lot of excellent tunes, and I can’t wait till I get the chance to put some of them through a big sound system, but there are several tracks on FH2 and FH3 that left my jaw on the floor in a way that, after listening to Black Friday, it isn’t.