Wrangler — A Situation (28 Feb., 2020) ★⊕★ Vzhledem k jejich působivému životopisu, který kombinuje členy Cabaret Voltaire, Tunng a The Maths, je třetí album Wrangler překvapivě rozsáhlým a dobře navrženým projektem pro lehký poslech. Jejich MO vždy bylo používat staré vybavení k vytvoření něčeho nového a téma budování se starými součástmi zde prakticky pokračuje. A Situation vyniká, když to zní jako od malých boys, kteří vytvářejí písničky uvnitř vašich reproduktorů; ... [išel Macek do Malacek ] — slyš ne Boží Slovo ale vrčící vrtačky v „Machines Designed To Eat You Up“ a blikající zvuky titulní skladby: ty vytvářejí dojem, že kreativní lidé společně něco montují. Je to poutavé a zábavné, kapela vymačkává koncept ze všeho, co za to stojí. A navíc, Wrangler odmítá ignorovat možnost naděje. Zrcadlový obraz 4. kompozice „Mess“ přichází ve tvaru techno~pop bangeru po vzoru Kraftwerk s dozvukem jak z měděné roury. Tak zní i šestá „Rhizomatic“. Jak říká Mal: „Je to povznášející píseň, jednoduše proto, že decentralizace technologie je jedním z aspektů internetu, který by nás mohl zachránit.“ Ale možná nejpozitivnější stránkou alba je pevně zakomponována do DNA skladby „Slide’simply“, protože stojí na kontinuu s nejvíce povznášejícím chicagským housem a nejoptimističtější newyorskou garáží. K fungování Wrangleru jsou nutné obě strany mince — dystopická i utopická. Nejvýstižněji to shrnuje Phil, když říká: „Čím horší věci se stávají, tím víc chci jen povyskočit a pobavit se.“
★⊕★ Following their critically acclaimed collaboration with John Grant on last year’s Creep Show project, Wrangler today announce news of their new album, A Situation, released 28th February via Bella Union and available to preorder here.
★⊕★ To celebrate the release the band have shared an extraordinary digital video for “Anthropocene”, a track about the collapse and fall of human civilisation. Of the track Wrangler say: “We have left our mark on the world on which we walk. This is a soundtrack for the urban age. Sounds to lift us above the detritus which envelops and strangles us.” Of the video director Akiko Haruna adds: “The effect humans have on the planet is something that I am conscious of daily. Anthropocene shows our world, compressed onto the Wrangler logo. Over it looms three ugly heads, representing the human ego and how we might view ourselves as deities or Gods; the overseers of our world. Within the Wrangler world, we show a range of things happening in our current world such as sweat shops, deforestation, farming, fracking, sustainable energy, transport, etc. It was an immense privilege to work with 3D animator Ben Chan, who helped this world come to life. The situation is a serious one and I am very afraid, so to keep things bearable I like to force a slice of humour in everything. The space ship at the end is a little light relief from the situation; Escape. Realistically, I am much more for saving what we have and would rather not ditch our beautiful planet, but there’s nothing like a little space expedition to keep the options open.”
★⊕★ When Wrangler first formed they had a very simple modus operandi. The clue was in their name. Ben ‘Benge’ Edwards (The Maths), Stephen ‘Mal’ Mallinder (Cabaret Voltaire) and Phil Winter (Tuung) would get together with a very select kit list of careworn analogue synthesisers and vintage digital sequencers. Their task? To wrangle new music from the ancient equipment. These self~imposed restrictions helped produced two classic long players: LA Spark (2014) and White Glue (2016).
★⊕★ However, the times have changed and so have Wrangler. The coming decade, which looks set to be dubbed the Terrible Twenties, may be the last time that bands actually get to release albums. Ecological collapse, climate crisis, food shortages and the disintegration of the fabric of society will mean that the slow devolution of the music industry isn’t even one of the main things that musicians (or anyone else) should be worrying about. So the trio have thrown everything into their third (but hopefully not their last) album. The result — A Situation — is simultaneously their bleakest and funkiest release to date.
★⊕★ This collection of warm, reverberant, amped up tracks, that land somewhere between future music, synth pop, industrial dance, classic techno and rigid electro, captures the ambiguities of the group perfectly. Just as they use the ageing outmoded equipment that other people once chose to throw away in order to make tomorrow’s music, they are the paranoid group who (just about) dare to hope that things still might turn out OK. They cast a doleful eye across the hellscape of 2019 and state, if the end is truly nigh, then it’s never been more important to celebrate the little time we have left. And if a revolution to save ourselves is possible then we’re all in need of a revolutionary party, with a revolutionary soundtrack to match.Location: London, UK
Album release: 28 Feb., 2020
Record Label: Bella Union
01. Anthropocene 5:26
02. How To Start A Revolution 4:40
03. Machines Designed (To Eat You Up) 5:44
04. Mess 7:10
05. Knowledge Deficit 6:12
06. Rhizomatic 6:02
07. Anarchy of Sound 6:09
08. Slide 6:12
09. A Situation 5:57
10. White Noise 7:14Review
by Alan Ashton~Smith ⌊26 Feb 2020⌋ Score: ★★★★
⊕ A kind of experimental electronic supergroup, Wrangler are named for their self~assigned mission: to wrangle new sounds from old equipment. The gear comes courtesy of analogue synth wizard Ben Edwards, better known as Benge, and his co~wranglers are Stephen Mallinder of dark new wave legends Cabaret Voltaire and Phil Winter from the experimental folk group Tunng. What was conceived as an exploratory project has turned into a band with real longevity: after two albums plus a collaboration with John Grant as Creep Show, they are now onto their third LP.
From the outset, A Situation is a black hole of an album: cold, dark, even nihilistic. It’s easy to get drawn into the music but it doesn’t offer any obvious exits or conclusions.
★⊕★ Opening track Anthropocene refers to the geological epoch du jour: an age in which the fabric of the Earth has changed beyond recognition thanks to the influence and activity of humans. It sounds like a song from both the future and the past, as though someone came up with the idea years from now and then sent it back in time to be assembled and processed at a time when electronic music was new and exciting. Mallinder’s vocals, which have a character here not unlike David Bowie’s voice on his later albums, are cold yet sound full of angst as he parses the present.
⊕ Machines Designed (To Eat You Up) is similarly topical, either predicting or satirising the ascent of artificial intelligence. All bleeps and whirrs, with fragmentary lyrics that speak of things like spyware and ‘algorithmic fact traders’, it’s like a dystopian update of Kraftwerk’s The Robots: 21st century technology reduces us to unemployed husks fit for little more than being farmed for data. The unspoken punchline to this dark joke is of course that without machines — Benge’s famously impressive synth library — the song itself would not exist. It’s a product of a man~machine symbiosis: musicians and equipment working in harmony.
⊕ Rhizomatic is the most musically interesting song here, beginning with otherwordly pads, videogame bass synth and what sounds like distorted vocals providing a kind of sub~bass. It shimmers like a future city as it skitters around a groove that you can almost imagine Prince coming up with. Anarchy Of Sound — a strange song title in an album that for the most part sounds so tightly controlled — opens, after a minute or so of minimal techno, with the grand statement ‘”Rhythm is the architecture of life”. A couple of minutes later, once the song has pulsed through peaks and lows, Mallinder juxtaposes “Eucild patterns, discotechques”: classical geometry paralleled in sound.
⊕ It’s worth noting that Mallinder’s musical thinking has admirable depth. He has a PhD in popular music: his thesis is entitled ‘Movement: Journey of the Beat’, and in it he sets out to address “the trajectory and transition of popular culture through the modality of rhythm”. With this in mind, A Situation can be heard as an artistic, practice~based counterpart to Mallinder’s academic work, processed through Benge’s prodigious studio and Winter’s vision. This highly rhythmic exploration of the confusing and challenging era in which we live suggests that music can invite us to consider complex questions and phenomena just as effectively as scholarly work — and you can’t dance to a PhD thesis.