Tonesucker ~ Memento Mori

Years have passed since we’ve heard from the English band Tonesucker, but they’ve come back in a big way.  The new album arrives in a box that contains a USB stick, a series of postcards, and a small sachet of grave dirt.  And yet, the more one investigates the album, the less morbid it seems.  Instead, it manages to make a statement about death that is purely life-affirming.

Ironically, the album begins with the whispered words, “Remember me.”  These words come across as severe instruction:  Remember me after I am gone.  For if not …  The implication of forgotten, vengeful spirits is heard in the tone of the voice, as well as the music.  Even ghosts can feel entitled.

The strength of Tonesucker is the degree of sound that comes across as music rather than noise.  Layer upon layer of reverberating guitars meet feedback and echo.  Minutes into the first piece, the drums enter, making up for lost time.  And then a HUGE blast at the seven minute mark, which might cause listeners to cry out, “Okay, I’ll remember!”  But then just as suddenly, the instruments relent, making room for something like a melody, teased again further with giant chords, and at 14:26 with an unexpected breakdown.  Something big always seems to be coming, and the entire definition of large is restructured in each successive switch.  Such dynamic contrast is crucial to this album’s success.

In the fifteenth minute, a multitude of voices speaks all at once, a cacophony of the fractured digital era: so much being said that nothing is heard.  And then at the end, a single angry man, primeval in intensity.  We’ve come a long way; or have we?  In order to create these tracks, Tonesucker has raked over the coals of the past, extracting “Telstar”,  Crowley and chimes; they’ve demanded that their computers translate texts into Enochian; they’ve masticated the sounds of neurons, storms and the Blue Man Group.  Not that any of this is immediately apparent.  Their method of remembrance has required that everything be translated into code.

The liner notes are more specific.  Here we learn that “Lament” is inspired by the death of Peter “Sleazy” Christopherson, a founding member of Throbbing Gristle and part of the art collective Hipgnosis.  They honor him with guitars, electric fans and an attempt to utilize the cadences of sunspots.  One thinks the deceased would be proud.  A more linear effort than “Remember Me”, “Lament” moves inexorably toward thickness, a drone that even at 25 minutes seems too short, a parable of Christopherson’s life.  Memento mori means remember you will die.  It’s not a cheerful phrase, but in the hands of philosophers and theologians from Aurelius to Ecclesiastes, it bears a meaningful implication: live every day fully.  The spirits of historical figures from The Sun King to Clifford Grey may be placated temporarily by this release; remember me, they pled, and they were. Tonesucker has reawakened dialogues around them, and filled them with sound.  (Richard Allen)

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