Tilman Robinson‘s CULTURECIDE asks all the right questions, without providing answers. The album asks why we’ve allowed so many bad things to go on for so long: colonialism, climate change, economic inequality, technological dehumanization. In a way, our species has committed culturecide. In his native Australia, Robinson grew up hearing that one “people” was better than another, and was told to trust a government that spun its wheels. Then the whole continent seemed to catch on fire, a deadly metaphor.
From this one might expect an angry album, or a sad one, but instead Robinson has produced a suite of songs that incorporate both harshness and beauty, as if to acknowledge the ugliness while pointing a way forward to a vision of the new world that might be built from the ashes of the old. As most of the world is using isolation as a tool to battle extinction, now is the perfect time for reflection.
The album begins in urgency, as swift synthetic arpeggios plow forward into a bank of slow bass notes and beats. The effect is akin to that of a young, energetic activist running headlong into a bureaucracy of red tape and ineptitude. Neither side gives way. Nothing changes.
“We Came For Your Riches” contains a timbre akin to chains, providing an aural reminder of servitude; “Bartholemew, Glowing” circles back to a percussive pile of broken glass, acknowledging that society breaks the same things over and over again. In an unregulated race for the new, we discard the old: languages, cultures, wisdom. The vicious cycle continues and accelerates. “Teach Me To Destroy You” is dark and menacing on the surface, a stringed requiem rising underneath, like a delayed apology.
In “Proxy War,” a heavenly choir battles a deep rumble. The winner is undetermined, although the choir seems to bend a bit halfway. It’s difficult to sustain energy and optimism in the face of so much darkness. But then the choir rallies, singing a little bit louder, a little bit higher. Primordial forces are in play: the raging ocean, the darkness, the light. The three-note clusters that end the album sound like additional questions: is Gaia already doomed? Will we ever learn to care about each other more than ourselves? How much needs to burn before we notice the fire? (Richard Allen)