If the temporary abandonment of the moniker “Tad” is a stripping bare of sorts, the latest release by the great survivor of the early 90’s alternative music scene is positively hardcore in its gynaecological musical content. It would be easy to flap our arms and proclaim this as a massive deviation from the norm, an approach entirely at odds with Tad’s previous output – from his earliest recorded output with H-Hour to his most recent efforts with Brothers of the Sonic Cloth – yet this is to simplify what has always been a complex and layered approach to his sound. Doyle’s music has never lacked intensity, whether musically or lyrically – the pantomime slapstick of Jack Pepsi is as dizzyingly memorable as the ferocious yet decidedly more meditative themes on BOTSC. The same is true of this, the first time he’s operated as near as damn it as a solo artist, save for the occasional percussive input from Peter Scartabello. Yes, it’s cinematic in scope and invention but so was Helot, nearly (gulp) 30 years ago. Sure, there are more overt jazz influences than before, though the cohesion of unruly time signatures and challenging timbres is not a new thing for Tad in any sense. Doyle, thankfully, is as brave and uncompromising as ever, in this, potentially the best thing you’ll hear all year.
The lead track is a scattershot blast of almost biblical orchestration, the portent and gravitas you might expect of a Lavagnino score giving way to a noir-ish menace. Angular spikes of synthesised horns serve to unsettle as a lolloping march to an unholy arena sets the tone for what’s to come.
Lost in Abysmal Waters
If a largely instrumental album relies rather more on the listener’s imagination than what might be considered a traditionally arranged album, the title alone will do little to give you advanced hope of jollity and mirth. Seething even deeper into the mire, tolling bells are redolent to Morricone’s La Città Si Risveglia from The Bird With the Crystal Plumage, though this staggers with even more funereal resignation. An electronic Hell burbles beneath, the bass tones almost too low for human ears, somewhat similar to Helios Creed’s later work with Chrome.
More lush in terms of strings (still synthesised) and with a more obviously narrative flow, there’s a hint of Twin Peaks to proceedings, a feeling of Gnostic acceptance that the human spirit might prevail at the expense of an easy life. Listen back-to-back with Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique and the emotions evoked aren’t a million miles apart.
Asleep in Arrythmia
Tonal fog by the bucketload, ideal for night-time headphone listening but with a required health and safety warning to leave a bedside lamp on. Not for the easily chilled, the rising and falling swell is both elemental and supernatural.
Full on piano skronk, perhaps harking back to Doyle’s pre-recorded musical explorations in both classical and jazz. This is far from pastiche or playful posturing, this is serious and considered, deftly layered with rattling, though slyly polite percussion – there’s a feeling of infection that makes for troubling listen but one which delivers more and more on each playback.
Nurtured in Grief
Admittedly, not the cheeriest title. The opportunity to recover from the previous track’s bothering anguish is only rewarded with a void filled with plaintive piano and agonised synthetic cries. Beautiful and absolutely horrific by equal measure, it’s the point in the album where, upon first listen, I started to listen to the whole thing again from the start. Even with a minimal palette of noise, there’s is so much to take in – it’s alarming to realise just how much a great deal of modern music spoon-feeds you, whilst an accomplished musician can have to confidence to rely on the listener’s input to weave their own way through the threads they supply. There’s some background chattering on this, though I can’t make out what he’s saying. It ain’t good, whatever it is.
Meditation in Null
Essentially a punch in the face with a lighthouse, this is your final warning to abandon all hope, should you wish to continue. Catastrophic drones, fingernails down blackboards, moths wings on fire, it’s harrowing and magnificent. An absolute bastard of a track.
Born Into Sorrow
A musical white flag of sorts, the sound of dust settling on battered bones.
Prognati Ignis Ignis
Carl Sagan narrates the album’s epilogue, a quasi-religious conclusion to a religious listening experience. The galloping instrumental outro is a ride into a tormented sunset, entirely satisfying, though it’s not done with us yet.
“In all this vastness, there is no hint that hope will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves”
This is a staggeringly important album, one with a formidable remit to expose the innermost turmoil in a man’s mind without flinching. It works because it has respect for the listener and an understanding that what you don’t hear or see is often as valuable as what you’re presented with. Indispensable.