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Pharmakon
Abandon Matthew Kent , August 7th, 2013 05:54

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From that first glass-shattering shriek, held and sustained at its highest, most anguished point, it becomes readily apparent that this is not meant as an album to sink into. Margaret Chardiet has poured her whole being into the density of its energy, a pure and unbridled howl to confront any expectation for those expecting to dip a toe into the world of Pharmakon. Such a wail is an unavoidably bodily experience - throats ripped raw and screamed hoarse, whole physical weight thrown behind the roar, all rationality and psychological control forsaken in that moment of white-hot emotive exertion. So begins Abandon.

The body of the listener takes a fair battering amongst this too, as Pharmakon seeks to transfer her pain directly and forcefully unto any and all listeners. Chardiet has an impressive eye for the kind of production that makes the most of minimal composition. Every sound has had its corners carefully chiselled into sharp definition - always finding the hardest, most penetrative angle possible for maximum physical impact, until the overall sensation for the listener is one of being cleaved cleanly in twain.

Short stabs quickly fall into a rhythmic framework which serves to intensify their magnitude, while throbs and small dirges form a backbone of simple brutal repetition. Where such an intensity of emotional outpouring might otherwise quickly diffuse into a swampy mess, here it lasts and lasts - becoming more painful, even, as 'Milkweed' transitions into 'It Hangs Heavy', and then 'Ache'. The duress from such exertion on Chardiet is obvious: that first howl has now become a rasping snarl, and words become lost in guttural torrents.

Small pockets of introspection do occasionally creep in. The fiery torment of 'Ache' burns out into something altogether more spectral in its last two minutes, and 'Pitted' seems more of a lament than a battle cry. These moments draw into sharp relief the cathartic nature of Abandon - of purging deep to burn everything out. Accordingly, Pharmakon live is an extension of this: Chardiet is a duality of a presence, moving between protracted, direct eye contact with her audience, unnerving them, and then periods where she retreats, apparently falling back into herself.

The most thrilling track here (by some margin) is the last. During 'Crawling On Bruised Knees' Chardiet treats her voice with a kind of pitch-shifted electronic death-rattle - affectingly inhuman and coolly detached. Slow, grinding engines buzz and swoop as if overhead, apocalyptic drums beat a slow march forward. It's highly reminiscent of the work of Kris Lapke's power electronics project Alberich, particularly the vast NATO Uniformen boxset. But where that release preached militaristic terror through crushing repetition (at over three hours long it's next to impossible to sit through attentively in one sitting), 'Crawling on Bruised Knees' acts more like a deadly bombing run - flying off once its payload is expended.

Abandon is quite short for a full-length album, but its physicality and intensity leaves the listener exhausted in a way that doesn't require further expansion. Its swift, keen-edged attack is a visceral experience, but beneath the surface lies a slightly more veiled intention - Chardiet accessing deeper, truer emotions and sharing them with her audience.

Daniel
Aug 7, 2013 2:06pm

Excellent review! I totally felt the same when I listened to the whole album, it was a truly revelatory experience that left me wanting for more, usually when I listen to albums I just do other things instead but this album really forced me to sit and listen which was both scary and wonderful in a way! I have never experienced something quite like it before, where music just demands that you sit and shut up during the listening experience... Oh! And the reviewer made a slight mistake!! The album has a fifth bonus track called "Sour Sap" which is about 26 minutes which makes it even more logical as to why it is a full length album, I don't think the reviewer took that in mind but it's ok ;)
Ps: If you want to hear more from Margaret Chardiet (Pharmakon) she does a wonderful sort of monologue on a track by the synth band VÅR called "No One Dances Quite Like My Brothers", check it out!

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Aug 7, 2013 3:04pm

Garbage novelty noise. Does Quietus have any critical scruples left or is it devolving into a sub rosa advertising site for new banality and retro nostalgia? I'm sorry you were "scared," Daniel, but this record is an insult to Diamanda Galas, Ruth Crawford Seeger, Rose Maddox, Billie Holiday and just about every other female composer/singer you could name... But oooh, she's "cute" (enough) and is just CRAZY with electronics!! DIamanda meanwhile trained her ass off... hmmmmmm.

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Aug 7, 2013 3:45pm

Any links where I can give it a listen?

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Aug 7, 2013 4:04pm

In reply to :

In reply to anonymouse:

Why only female composers/singers? As if it would be outrageous to compare Pharmakon to male musicians who make similar music, rather than Billie Holiday or Rose Maddox, whose musical intentions are nowhere near those of Margaret Chardiet.

I just had a listen to Pharmakon's "Crawling On Bruised Knees" on youtube, and it's a great track that can stand up to most of the stuff Diamanda Galas has done. (Of Galas' oeuvre I think only Saint Of The Pit / The Divine Punishment is really good, the album preceding it is too hysterical and what comes after is too bluesy)

As for musical training, it never has been a guarantee of quality and it never will be. If you don't agree, you belong at Mojo, not at The Quietus.

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caonai
Aug 7, 2013 4:43pm

Hmm. I think I prefer Maja Ratkje, who's been doing similar stuff for a few years now, but with a wider dynamic. But Ms Chardiet's just starting out - still plenty of time to stretch and improve!

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August
Aug 7, 2013 6:50pm

That's a damn ugly album sleeve.

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Aug 7, 2013 7:44pm

In reply to caonai:

Better yet, how about Margaret get a Zumba certificate and work out her stretching energy there? Any other physical outlet has got to be better than what she's passing off as music or-- hah hah-- "art." Not even "performance art."

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tdc
Aug 7, 2013 11:55pm

In reply to :

I mean... look. I may not always enjoy the extremes of noise music AS much as Quietus writers do, but if they say they had a moving experience listening to something, I'm going to assume they are not lying about their own personal experience, even if it's not my own reaction.

I saw Pharmakon open for Swans and her show was suitably intense. I don't know if it's the kind of thing I would necessarily play on my stereo but I certainly wouldn't assume someone's full of shit for liking it.

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Aug 8, 2013 10:10am

But that knees song is really just TG's Discipline, no?

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