By far the strangest release of the season, John, Betty and Stella cuts dialogue from English-language training records, rearranges them into little plays, and places them over an electronic backdrop. It’s the best use of old dialogue we’ve heard since 2012’s Tyneham House.
Given this information, it’s no surprise to learn that Mateusz Wysocki (Fischerle), who runs the Pawlacz Perski label, is also an author of children’s books; or that Jakub Pokorski (Krojc) is well-versed in literature-inspired music. Each brings their individual skills to bear on this recording, which comes across as found theatre. The tracks seem benign on the surface, but with an undercurrent of danger; behind the stately wolf’s smile lies a row of crooked teeth.
As the album (play?) begins, computer bleeps and field recordings collide in soft collusion. A train passes; a steam pipe hisses; the narrator steps forward, his footsteps concealed by vinyl static. Section Eleven, he intones, doing John’s room. The friendly description is challenged by foreboding beeps. Section twelve ~ modern art. A whoosh of electronics fractures into glassy shards. There is more here than meets the ear: pulses, brambles, hidden agendas. A conversation about a drawing begins to turn sinister: A man? Where are his legs? An undercurrent of forbidden knowledge, seldom addressed in children’s literature, rises to the fore. Krojc and Fischerle play instruments and samples over it all, as if nothing is happening below. At one point, they break into a dance beat, repeating the word “reform”, as if Lemon Jelly had suddenly broken into the house before being pummeled into submission.
Gender disparity is apparent throughout, as the oblivious John stutters, “But Betty …” and “Stella, wait! Where are you going?” The women tolerate John, but challenge him as well. His patriarchal privilege is about to slip, but it’s still the middle of the 20th century, and John doesn’t realize it yet. Section 43 ~ John has trouble with his eyes. Of course he does. We’ve seen it coming. We’ve heard it in the narrow synths and Carpenter-esque squiggles. Now look left … now look right. As the instruments of torture are lined up, the heartbeat protests. When Krojc and Fischerle return to Section 25 (“Porridge is good for you”), there’s no longer a guarantee of safety. Now John has a headache. Poor John. Soon even the radio is broken.
The purest piece, “A Musical Evening”, contains virtually no dialogue. It’s a curtain call for Krojc and Fischerle, a way to demonstrate their facility with the groove. All cleverness laid aside, they simply continue to play around, knowing that the ears will follow. They’ve had an awful lot of fun with this release, and listeners will as well. (Richard Allen)