Available on: Perc Trax
The title of Ali Wells’ second LP is, he says, ironic. It is a critique of British institutions – the government, organised religion – and the increasingly shady ways in which they are exercising their power. Wells, it seems, is frustrated with a generation of apathetic youngsters in thrall to “cookiecutter deep house” – a generation whose ‘political engagement’ amounts to breaking the nearest picket line – and The Power & The Glory is his attempt to shake them from their stupor. Parts of the album seem to act out this intention in very literal terms. ‘Dumpster’, for example, sweeps aside a few seconds of jaunty whistling when it thunders into view. That moment works equally well as an absurdist gag; one of several on a record dripping with the sort of eminently British gallows humour that made rave music under the Tories and the comedy of Chris Morris such close bedfellows. ‘David & George’ loops Punch & Judy cackles over geyser sprays of percussion, conjuring images of the Bullingdon twosome celebrating with their piles of Post Office privatisation cash. ‘Horse Gum’ is pure Blue Jam music, a tramadol lullaby with a nightmarish edge.
These moments seem to say, whether through brute force or sly mockery, “wake up!” But the relationship between Wells’ music and rebellion has never been quite so simple. There is, after all, a Perc Trax sublabel called Submit, the cover of whose debut release lovingly depicts a rope-bound wrist. That release was a collaboration between Wells and Einstürzende Neubauten and, like many of his techno contemporaries, the producer has inherited industrial music’s fascination with – or fetishisation of – the language and logic of power.
So it’s no surprise that The Power & The Glory often indulges, on some level, in just the thing it is criticising. ‘Bleeding Colours’ is beat music of the sort that you do not dance to so much as lean against, as with a strong wind or a block of concrete. In the closing minute it suddenly and shockingly intensifies. Resisting this acceleration into chaos won’t get you anywhere; go with it, however, and it’s glorious. The brilliant ‘Take Your Body Off’ is the soundtrack to a mass of people lockstepping, lemming-like, straight into oblivion (or perhaps, as the title suggests, out of their own bodies). At its centre is Dethscalator vocalist Dan Chandler, whose feeble mewls convey not aggression so much as pathetic, broken abandon.
Granted, there is more to The Power & The Glory than, well, power-play. Elsewhere Wells explores various states of intensity with equal skill and greater subtlety. Tracks like ‘Rotting Sound’ show how far the producer’s off-dancefloor chops have developed since 2011’s Wicker & Steel. ‘Galloper’’s spring-loaded groove recalls Pangaea (of all people), and the likes of ‘Speek’ and ‘Lurch’ challenge techno’s conventions as much as they fulfill them. Piano-led closer ‘A Living End’ muddies the waters even further: Wells describes it as a comment on euthanasia, and it’s a majestic, rather poignant descent into that good night.
But while The Power & The Glory can be viewed from several angles – and each will reveal it to be exceedingly good – the image that will stay with you is of the figure depicted on its cover: a contorted body, bursting with whitehot light, wracked with either pain or ecstasy – or more accurately some combination of the two.