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Public Speaking, "Caress, Redact"

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cover imageSome of Jason Anthony Harris' previous recordings as Public Speaking have flirted with more traditional song-like material, but would just as often end up being more in line abstract and chaotic world of noise.  For this newest album, however, it seems as if he has settled more comfortably into the role of songwriter, and here, across these seven pieces, he creates a dark, at times very disturbing world presented as off-kilter, bizarre electronic pop.

Floordoor Records

The most recent release I heard from Harris was last year’s Mountainmurals tape:  a well executed release of found sound tape collages, so the rhythmic throb and clean vocals of opener "Blacksite Blues" were a drastic departure, though not far removed from the 2013 Blanton Ravine record.  It is the perfect start to the album, with clattering noises, synthesizer, and saxophone (by Johnny Butler) melded into an insistent blues throb.  Harris’ vocals are croon-heavy and appropriately dramatic, shifting between notes effortlessly as the backing track bludgeons.  Only during a jolting, unexpected delicate breakdown passage does the hammering cease, but when it comes back it is all the heavier.

"I Turn Over His Body" is another more rhythmically focused piece, this time a pastiche of programmed militaristic snares and more conventional saxophone leads.  Compared to "Blacksite Blues," the instrumentation and musical structure is more varied and dynamic, while Harris’ vocal performance is more restrained and muted.  The album closing title song is another one where he puts the beat first, via a steady thumping rhythm and strange, far off guitar from Zach Ryalls.  With the voice processing bending the lyrics largely indecipherable, the focus is the beat and effects.

Where Caress, Redact shines the most is Harris' narrative lyrical content being juxtaposed with drastically different musical accompaniment, making for a stark and fascinating contrast.  The twinkling electronics and up-beat tempo of "Protect Me From My Own Paws" have a light, electronic pop sensibility to them, but with lyrics about immolation being delivered so smoothly, the pairing is unsettling.  The understated, electronic tinged piano ballad "Shifting Weight" may superficially come across like an experimental R&B song, but the lyrics from an abusive father’s perspective, tossing out homophobic slurs about his son, is something much darker.

This sensibility is continued on "Processed By The Pound," at first by means of rave synth stabs and bent electronics, it eventually comes together with a dark, rhythmic structure and sputtering tremolo effects.  With its lyrics covering spousal rape, domestic violence, murder, and body disposal via meat processing, I could not help but draw some parallels to the lyrical content of a big portion of Big Black's discography, though Harris’ presentation is more of a sympathetic, introspective one compared to Steve Albini's over-the-top shock tactic style.

Caress, Redact is not only an excellent work on its own merits, but it also excels because it sounds so little like no one (or nothing) else.  The songs are all rich in composition but intentionally fragmented and disjointed in their production, channeling the familiar and the alien perfectly.  When this is mixed with Harris' strong lyrics and powerful vocals, the combination is compelling and fascinating and stands out exceptionally among this year's best records.

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Last Updated on Sunday, 25 September 2016 22:27  


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