When I first heard about ‘Concrete Desert’ my jaw hit the floor. The full length album by sonic titans - the UK dancehall/dub veteran Kevin Martin (aka The Bug) and the American pioneer of drone metal Dylan Carlson – is finally out on Ninja Tune!!! These two legendary figures have been shaping my taste in music for years… Martin is my hero since his and Justin Broadrick’s (aka JK Flesh) industrial hip-hop project Techno Animal, whilst Earth with Dylan Carlson in front was one of the very first metal bands I listened to.
To me what distinguishes a good album from an exceptional, is when each and every track is great. Los Angeles inspired ‘Concrete Desert’ lasts an hour and a half (the version with 3 additional tracks, two of these featuring JK Flesh), yet I never skip a song. This conceptual monolith piece magically blends Earth’ian drones with the Bug’s industrial dub settings, generating a deep cinematic feel. Critics often describe ‘Concrete Desert’ as dystopian – ‘dark’ (Soundblab), ‘as ominous as anything’ (CLRVYNT), ‘self-imposed apocalypse’ (Quip). The more I listen to the album, the less I agree. Perhaps that is my Russian conformation speaking – body and mind that accepts Pharmakon and JK Flesh as dancehall music and vodka as dinner... [If you are looking for crushing vitriolic darkness, check out ‘Absent In Body’, another collaboration between leaders of underground, Mathieu Vanderkerckhove (Amenra, Syndrome), Scott Kelly (Neurosis, Mirrors For Psychic Warfare) and Colin H. van Eeckhout (Amenra, CHVE) - because you will not have premonitions nor find a ferocious apocalypse in ‘Concrete Desert’]. Melancholic at times, ‘Concrete Desert’ offers optimistic ecstatic soundscapes. Tracks evolve in a floating tempo, drone guitars build up slowly and synths feel uplifting. Songs like ‘Gasoline’, ‘Snakes vs Rats’ and ‘Don’t Walk These Streets’ are pleasantly danceable. Repetitive beats, doom-laden riffs, dub atmospherics commingle with grace and vibrancy. ‘Broke’, however, brings in Sunn O)))-esque murky texture. The extra version of the song, titled ‘Pray’ adds the vocals of JK Flesh. Justin’s voice flashes back to industrial menace of Aaron Turner in Sumac, while crescendo guitar drones build up suspense.
In an interview on ‘Concrete Desert’ for Bandcamp, Martin lamented: “When you look at the world leaders that are on top of the stage right now, it’s just literally insane. It seems almost like there’s this blatant disregard—whether it be Trump’s ignorant xenophobic bullshit, or Putin assassinating his major opponent, or Le Pen in France. Wherever you go now, it seems people are out to warmonger.” It seems that the album not only references Los Angeles and its structural inequalities, but also a deeper turmoil of post-modern, post-truth human existence. For me though, ‘Concrete Desert’ serves an antidote to hopelessness. Future might be bleak, but as long as art, where one can find a refuge exists, there will be a light at the end of the tunnel.
To conclude, ‘Concrete Desert’ is not about functional music that is aimed at amusing the audience. The album takes the listener to a challenging, arresting space where kinetic electronics and elegantly massive guitar drones seamlessly merge, pushing experimentation to the forefront. 9/10
photo: Phil Sharp