Themes Of Carnal Empowerment Part 1: Lust
Jamie Blacker has always favoured the more atmospherically structured side of rhythmic noise, his releases relying on ambience and subtle use of sampling to offset the waves of distorted percussion. His new record as E.S.A., Themes Of Carnal Empowerment Part 1: Lust, ups the ante somewhat; with conceptual underpinnings spelled out right in the title of the album, we find Blacker using his compositional talents to make music about, well, fucking. Actually, fucking may be a bit specific: as one might expect from its pedigree, this isn’t a collection of boudoir ready sex-jams (unless your partner is particularly open-minded, you might get a bit of a look if it came on in flagranti), moreso a meditation on how lust factors into sexuality and consequently bleeds into the rest of human interaction.
In a lot of ways E.S.A.’s music is perfect for this sort of thing. Inasmuch as it’s possible for us to divine meaning from largely instrumental works without already knowing what they’re about based on things like track titles and press releases (and in this case the lovely artwork that accompanies the record), Blacker has a knack for conveying feeling within his music. Fortunately we also have context to shore up any ambiguities in how we absorb these songs: to wit, a number like “Wretch” could be about a lot of things, but with the added knowledge of its frame of reference the warbling bass and rapid beats begin to sound like rutting. Much of the first half of the record works in this fashion, “The Plot Sickens” and “Carved Scars of Carnality” revolve around a loose distorted grooviness, the former bleeding into the latter with what feels for all the world like the sensation of inevitability that comes with your more inadvisable sexual encounters. Blacker plays moments like these expertly, displaying an uncommon capability at drawing his audience in that belies the punishing nature of his work.
E.S.A. has always deployed vocals sparingly, and when they do appear of Themes they’re oblique: minus some more discernible moments on “Bliss” and “The Revelant Flesh”, Blacker’s Sutcliffe Jugend-cum-Justin Broadrick-circa-Streetcleaner howls are more of a textural element than anything else. Other voices do show up across the album, most notably the spoken female vocals on the title track and “Black Trip”, and serve to offer a more varied delivery; an album about something as universally human as lust wouldn’t do well to be limited to a strictly masculine narrator. To his credit, Jamie resists the temptation to play that gender divide for a cheap semiotic pop; he gives equal chance for each sex to speak to us via rational monotone and fevered shouts. Speaking of monotone, when the sickeningly thick bass breakdown at the end of the aforementioned “Bliss” gives way to tense ambiance at the beginning of “This is Not Love”, it’s the wet, inhuman voice repeating the track’s name that sets the tone for one of the album’s most cathartic moments, sweeping pads and string sounds carried aloft by slower if no less pounding percussion. The album is so relentless up ’til that point that the sense of release is palpable, and cheap orgasm metaphors aside it really is quite lovely.
It’s at its conclusion that Themes Of Carnal Empowerment Part 1 makes it’s most pointed statement with “Loss (Prurient Symphony)” operating on the kind of grand scale that fully justifies the conceits of the album wholesale. Beginning with portentous spoken word, the track is rapidly overtaken by a massive wave of pinkish noise that burns itself out, leaving behind a haunting, dusky bit of synthetic orchestration that slowly rolls to a halt. As a departure from the rhythmic thrust of the rest of the album it drives home what preceded it while simultaneously wiping the conceptual slate clean. Knowing as we do that a second part of the series is on it’s way soon, it’s the perfect ending for one of the best records released in its vein thus far this year, powerful both in the abstract and in execution. Highly recommended.