Inner Ear Records INN071 2012, DD CD & 2×10” album, 1h 5m 56s
€8 DD €10 CD €22 2×10” (+ bonus CD)
Produced amidst the collapse of Greek civil society and the evaporation of its economic certainties, Mechanimal looks outwards, fixing its gaze in particular on America and Germany as the source of its musical materials, and by implication (not to mention common consent) significant contributors to the social ills afflicting Mechanimal’s native shores. ‘America, America/ I’ve got your fucking blues’ intones vocalist Freddie F. in ‘Funny’, while the deadpan automated insincerity of the lines ‘You know/ I’m devastated by the way things turned out/ I’m really sorry’ occur in a song titled ‘Motorik’, a term for the characteristic driving beats of Krautrock, which are a very clear influence on the sounds of this album. This is not to say that the album is a document of blame, that it is principally concerned with the relationship between Greece and other countries, or that its music can be characterised as derivative of Krautrock or the blues; but it is informed by a keen sense of the international, an awareness that the cultural, social, political and economic worlds in which we live are not bounded by national frontiers. For popular-music artists in Greece (and many other countries) this is probably a far more obvious truth than it is in the UK, given the overwhelming cultural hegemony of the English speaking world in mass culture; but one of the most significant exceptions to that hegemony in the history of rock and pop music is the immensely influential German contribution often and misleadingly summarised as Krautrock, and the specific areas of interest manifest on Mechanimal’s debut suggest a sophisticated understanding of the way that culture is negotiated in a global space, rather than simply partaking of a trans-national conversation. Obviously the meta-national space in which economics operate is now crushingly obvious to all Greeks.
The record opens very gently, with a pulsing bass and some gentle upper-register sounds; sonorous spoken-word vocals join the mix, and the texture gradually thickens, until it’s a powerful, propulsive groove. Other tracks open more emphatically, with more active sounds, but the approach is similar throughout the album; the songs do not have the sort of formal structures that separate themselves into distinct, contrasting sections. Instead they develop cumulatively, through gradual textural transformation and intensification; most begin with a relatively sparse sound, and progressively accrete detail, timbral density and rhythmic activity. The grooves are built electronically, powered by synth basses and drum machines, but they have a rock vibe; despite their unconcealed artificiality the beats echo the work of drummers such as Klaus Dinger, combining a relative lack of variation, a very low fill quotient and an irresistible sense of forward motion with a measured and unhurried pace. The bass tends to operate in running ostinatos, with just enough syncopation built into them to keep their sense of momentum front and centre. Additional sounds are relatively varied in source, although producer Giannis Papaioannou displays a preference for extended, distorted drones and enjoys flirting with atonality in the upper register; some sounds are synthesised and others are provided by the creative and textural guitar work of Tassos Nikogiannis, who sometimes contributes to the groove, and sometimes washes sombre and distorted colours across the music.
The vocals are laconically delivered, sometimes overtly as spoken-word, and sometimes with a hint of pitch to them; the press materials that were sent to me suggest that Mechanimal are ‘finding beauty and hope in the unforgiving urban terrain’, but lyrically they seem more focussed on the critical or the satirical. I guess the lesson is that you need to find beauty in some pretty dark materials if you’re going to live in twenty-first century Athens. Beauty is certainly here, mind you: this is not aggressive or abrasive music, although it is certainly sombre. Hope is inherent in the forward motion that pervades the album; the music is always concerned with moving on, with futurity and progress, even when other concerns are more overtly expressed, but there’s no naïve optimism on this record. Beauty is not found in spite of a bad situation, but in the very tissue of its being, in the experience of living through it; dark, dysphoric atmospheres are evoked, and Mechanimal isolate an aesthetic perspective that emphasises all the power and determination of the human response to them. This is the music of people facing hard choices, not escaping from them; people engaging with situations that they know are unjust, and meeting them with determined realism, not denial or fantasy. The music is organised, coherent, and it is to Mechanimal’s credit that they have found an artistic response to the context in which they find themselves which is not chaotic or viscerally angry. Mechanimal is an intelligent, moving and profoundly powerful album.