Odes To Bubbler
January prompts mixed emotions amongst the ID:UD staff. On one hand, we get to rub our hands at the thought of all the albums the year ahead promises. On the other, we get to smack our foreheads when we realise that Awesome Band X put a record out in the now receding year which we completely missed out on. Here’s the first of what could be several “mea culpa” style reviews.
Angels fear to tread in Controlled Bleeding’s discography. That’s not because their music is aggressive, ominous, intimidating, and violent (while it is those things it’s also beautiful, calming, and impressionist), but because their near-incalculable number of releases defies easy taxonomy, even with regards to format. “Is this an LP or a live disc? A greatest hits or a from-the-archives comp?” Things don’t get any clearer when it comes to the music itself. From industrial metal to dark ambient to art rock to dub, even to truly moving experimentation with sacred music, Controlled Bleeding’s work covers a dizzying range, often in the space of a single album.
Odes To Bubbler carries on this disorienting tradition at both levels: it’s a mix of six new tracks and pieces culled from similarly convoluted releases and sessions from the past five years (with some live bits added for good measure), and changes stylistic gears at breakneck speed. Furthermore, if like me you haven’t stayed abreast of Controlled Bleeding’s output since Paul Lemos reactivated the band in 2002 (learning about bands this prolific twenty years into their career puts you permanently behind the eight-ball: you’ll never catch-up), there’s the additional shock of just how radically different their contemporary material is from their 80s and 90s work.
Up first are the brand new tracks – riff-heavy, psych-tinged krautrock which blazes along at an alarming pace: an odd if immediately arresting and grokkable hybrid of Can and Lightning Bolt, perhaps. As far as this material’s connections to the rest of Controlled Bleeding’s work are concerned, the closest analogy I can think of is Wire’s Read & Burn EPs: a surprise move to a ferociously aggressive mode from a long-in-the-tooth band that has one foot in the original, uncompromising experimental modes from which they sprang and another in the camp of younger bands who have modernized those templates.
If there’s a unity, albeit a frenzied one, to the new half of Odes, the second half (featuring contributions from since-deceased vocalist Joe Papa) does everything in its power to undo it. After some gurgling ambient prettiness, “A Love Song In Two Parts” descends into a power electronics maelstrom for six minutes. Providing an immediate counterpoint to an example of a recognizably “industrial” vein of noise, Odes then serves up nine tracks (averaging just over a minute apiece) of the sort of spastic, free-jazz influenced noise rock which Japan has been doing so well for the past few decades (think Ruins at their most unhinged). Things then “settle down” with a looping industrial percussion track (“Grinder’s Song”, perhaps the most archetypal Controlled Bleeding track found herein, however one wants to take that), an ambient chimer, and another free-jazz freakout as a closer.
Odes To Bubbler is nothing if not a grueling listen, but that’s pretty much entirely owing to the fractured set of sounds it abruptly kicks between, seemingly on a whim, rather than the abrasiveness of those sounds themselves. An album made up entirely of just one of the styles represented on Odes could easily lose its immediacy: here you’re never afforded an inkling of premonition. While not an industrial record as such by any stretch, it does show just how much territory there is to explore when you take industrial as a starting point – one of the genre’s earliest innovators is still finding new realms of noise over thirty years later.
If one were to begin wading into the Controlled Bleeding catalogue, how would one begin?
Geez, that’s a tough one. “Core”, “Trudge” and “Songs From The Drain” are maybe my favourite LPs, and if you tack on the Cleo “Best Of” and the “Inanation” LP/compilation you might start to be able to triangulate them. I’m far from a serious scholar/authority on the subject; I’ve just been picking up their stuff more or less at random whenever I can find it for the past ten or so years.
i would say golgotha or songs from the drain offer nice cross sections of the old controlled bleeding sound. trudge and penetration were the venture into a more traditional ‘industrial dance’ sound (but even that description is a stretch). the poisoner is a wonderful atmospheric piece and can you smell the rain between is a latter day snapshot of a band operating on multiple wavelengths at once.
a lot will depend on what style you like best because if get one of their abrasive wall of noise releases and that isn’t your thing you will hate it.
Hog Floor, The Poisoner, Curd or if you’re feeling exceptionally brave: The Drowning. What’s important to note is that anything before Curd is pure, unadulterated visceral noise. I like most of it but how many versions of Swallowing Scrap Metal are there!? Oh yeah, and then there’s Skin Chamber. Hee hee.
long-time listener and avid fan since the mid-90s.. at one time I had more cb records than any other band in my collection.. I, like others became obsessed after hearing “words…” on the blackbox compilation.. my first cb purchase was “buried blessings” a compilation of their waxtrax releases (one album “trudge”, two 12″ eps and two 12″ singles) and then “penetration” which in my opinion is their second most accessible record.. then it was on to the first album “knees and bones” then “songs from the drain” after which I got completely lost in the myriad of compilations like “hog floor”.. you just kind of take your pick.. I love the skin chamber records.. at this moment my favourites are “the drowning”, “headcrack”, “between tides” and “core”.. I could go on but I’ll stop there.. great review btw
really good review!! I just saw this today, so I might be a bit late in writing, but thanks for the nice words and for being so patient. i would not think that this would be an easy band for anyone to fully enjoy, and i know that i probably would have given up on us after body samples…P L