I wasn't aware that Perc Trax chief Ali Wells also released his own material until after my recent purchase of Forward Strategy Group's rather excellent Labour Division album. On the back of this, I decided to pick up last year's Wicker and Steel album to see how it measured up and was immediately impressed by his masterful layering of brutalist techno and post-industrial aesthetics. A few weeks ago I read that Wells was releasing a four track EP to follow up this debut and so I duly clicked the pre-order button.
As if to leave you in no doubt as to the uncompromising nature of this EP, the title track begins with a piercing, high frequency tone before the drums commence to kick your teeth in. The entire track is then enveloped in twitchy, phased sheets of grimy static as pulses of menacing bass emerge from the bottom end. 'Cash 4 Gold' establishes an almost arrhythmic beat; a loping clatter of snares, kicks and hi-hats against which various tones and reverberating pulses are offset. A burnished, skeletal synth line is also introduced adding a sparse, mournful edge to proceedings. Next track, 'Boy' is built on a rhythm track forged from sonic whip cracks and a clipped, trebly sample which almost pushes levels into the red. Around halfway through, the drums are momentarily overtaken by a swell of caustic white noise, a figure which is repeated again during the outro.
But it's the final track, 'Before I go' that manages to surprise the most. A piano plays lugubrious, spare chords against a backdrop of shuffling clatter and the gentle hum of an electric organ. The recording of the piano is muted and soft, blooming under a haze of cassette tape wow & flutter. It's a beautiful piece that puts me in mind of Tim Hecker's Dropped Pianos album and The Caretaker's incredible Patience (After Sebald), both huge favourites of mine from last year.
With this release, Ali Wells has not only succeeded in further developing his love of aggressive techno tropes and industrial soundscapes to a much more visceral level, but has also managed to give his music more texture and space to breathe. This is particularly evident on 'Cash 4 Gold', more so on the EP's closer 'Before I Go' which is a total revelation. It's incredibly satisfying to hear such a marked progression from a producer in such a relatively short period of time, particularly when so many others tend to be downright obdurate in their approach to change.
This is surely a sign of great things to come from Ali Wells, I'm looking forward to the next Perc album immensely.
A New Brutality is available as a digital download via the Perc Trax Bandcamp page.