Coraille coraille012, 2011, vinyl LP, 28m 5s
The word experimental is over-used in descriptions of avant-garde music, and is not always meaningful: who are we as listeners to judge whether an artist is conducting an experiment, or whether the sounds we hear represent their mature practice? However, experimental or not, There’s A Party In My Mouth But You’re Not Invited contains a feast of invention. From start to finish there is no recognisable ready-made rock gesture that has not been transformed, re-purposed and re-imagined.
This album opens with a sequence of blocky syncopated stabs, in a song that also encompasses passages of ominous, atmospheric right hand tremolos. Sissters have the knack of playing music that’s funky without sounding remotely like funk, but it’s just one of a variety of effects in their vocabulary, which is among the most individual lexicons I’ve encountered in a context that could still be identified as some kind of rock music.
The instrumental texture is perhaps the only conventional thing about this music: the line-up is a straightforward rock band, and it’s recorded in an uncontroversial manner, with a bright, overdriven guitar sound predominating in a soundstage that claims (through its lack of obvious artifice) to represent an unmediated performance. And it’s a performance that really doesn’t need any mediation, subverting, as it does, every received notion about what these instruments should be doing.
The music is by no means atonal, although there are outbreaks of dissonance, melodic incoherence and simple chaos. Nor is it arrhythmic: in fact, if anything, it’s more rhythmically exact than is at first apparent, with asymmetrical phrases and rests, that frequently dissemble tempo changes, nailed in precise unity. What is gleefully abandoned is the usual sense of continuity and narrative flow through each piece of music.
Songs move unpredictably between feels so different as to wrench the listener from one affective mood to another, and the sense of an ongoing groove on which other elements can be layered has been largely rejected in favour of a more bespoke approach to orchestration, where every role is up for grabs. Tension is built through long passages of repeated phrases that terminate in a sustained note, or that lack any sense of cadential resolution, and it is frequently only the drums that provide continuity, while the rest of the sound breaks up into separated gestures.
The vocals are declamatory (and have odd moments when they remind me of someone else, such as David Bowie or David Byrne, but only for a moment), and although they sometimes return strophically to a repeated refrain, they do not convey lyrics of the common sort, but something more akin to avant-garde poetry. I won’t attempt a detailed analysis here, but I will say that there is a strong element of satirical humour (as might be expected from the name of the album, and song titles such as ‘King And Queen Shallow’).
This is not comfortable music; it’s not something you can chill out to, but something that demands your attention, prodding at you with a continual urgency. Sissters describe their music as ‘alkopop’, which immediately takes a place in my top ten favourite genre labels, even if it does suggest something like Anti-Nowhere League more than the mediated kind of art-punk that they actually present on this album. Their music gives an impression of disorientation, of the sequential, and only tangentially connected conversational gestures of the disordered mind, but this is an artistic contrivance: There’s A Party In My Mouth But You’re Not Invited is a well crafted, serious minded (though humorous), and consummately creative work. It is performed with musical skill that refuses to celebrate itself, and a compositional sensibility that seeks to examine and transform its musical materials at every turn. This is certainly challenging music: its surface texture is gnomic and obscure, but for me it is a fascinating, entertaining essay in musical invention.