Carter Tutti Plays Chris & Cosey
, February 26th, 2015 18:30
Let's get the big business out of the way: There are some musicians who'll see a door, and run straight through it. Together, the duo of Chris Carter and Cosey Fanni Tutti – who formed Chris & Cosey, and later Carter Tutti - neither make casual music, nor do they make music casually. They create as if their lives are at stake, and we respond in kind. After 40 years of building an audience their own way from the roots of Throbbing Gristle, they show no sign of giving up, slowing down, or slamming into walls.
Carter Tutti Plays Chris & Cosey is one of those unusual career summaries with a shot at justifying itself, and it absolutely does. Gathering and reworking classic live versions of Chris & Cosey songs made between the 1980s and 1990s, it plays as one chain of timeless sure-shots. If they couldn't traipse about adding new things, why would they hassle with a two-dimensional reproduction of something that happened in front of a three-dimensional audience in the first place? You can clearly hear that this music exists within the world, you can hear it making sense outside and away from the studio in order to connect with people. It's like witnessing ecological action first hand, where amid wastelands of stopgaps (like live albums), lies an all-new regard for the past, an inspiring mound of sound bursting up and out of the earth. With each song on Plays Chris & Cosey they return to this gushing wellspring and berth it with trees, rumbling grit and construct a little station for its guests – these are spots worth visiting.
Chris & Cosey's best songs create a thrilling energy from the start, and something about this idea gets to the root of what a lot of us want music to do in the first place. In its new clothes, the sense of build they possess – the knowing exactly when to engage and when to withdraw, when to zoom into techno territory and fade back into synth - is a central sensibility they retain here. Throughout their recording career, they've struck a careful symmetry between spontaneous, carnal creation and exacting a formulaic structure with specific intentions for each record. So why is 'Lost Bliss' the official starting point? I like to think it's because this is from the record – Megatropolis – a collection of work from 1988-2001 where they both struck on the thing that they can do better than anyone else – capturing precise sensations of simple pleasure; that satisfying ba-doomph of a machine smack, the delicious dankness of a well-tempered bass synth, tense reverbs amping up the music's visceral tremble. The track is an invocation of electronic music, and Tutti's voice sweeps in with haunting gusto to deliver a set of sliding phrases over sparkly synthesisers. They just hang there exerting an intense emotional force field - a feeling repeated on 'Obsession.' Its sound nostalgic soaked with a retro-futuristic minimalism that could summon a nightclub from a parallel future. It's gorgeous. The sex is there: "Touch me, make me cry, desire me", but there are clearly better things to do about sex than just obsess about it – possess it, for one – relish in it, for another.
They have synthesised their way to a kind of private liquid heaven, chiseling music into impossible shapes that float in the air between you and your speakers. The decisive moment comes early, 'Beatbeatbeat' emerges into earshot like a figure in the fog: a thickly coated bed of kinetic minimal techno melody and vivid contours that sound – after the rework – energetic and tight. When the beat stretches its limbs, it sounds like the most fun they've had in a while.
The songs feel crisper and more forceful. Consider the 1984 track 'Driving Blind' for a moment – the rolling glitches in the background, the sudden warmth of phrasing in the vocals and the way they loop through its more atmospheric centre, but slow down and coast across softer electro grooves. The tweaks might tread close to distraction for devotees, but there's a movement here that keeps them from driving too far off the edge.
While Chris & Cosey always seem at ease inside their core sound, their records are still easily distinguishable. Where Songs Of Love & Lust reasserted their electro-noir in controlled, lighter gestures, Pagan Tango licked the darker edges of sexual primacy. 'Sin', like a carelessly fastened light bulb flickering onto swathes of velvet, metal and leather in the middle of an underground vault - hits a peak of clarity. Everything they do skillfully is here: they've peeled back the industrial drone that informed their earlier releases as if to cleave deeper into to the throbbing heart beneath it all. Tutti's voice, a beautifully idiosyncratic instrument packed with cracks and bruises always make her words feel very lived in, and very real. During the song she's in stunning form, "Lay me on a bed of sin," she sings over ascending arpeggio and bass, whipping across the shrieking strings so calmly. The song never sounds overstuffed or exhausting. I'm tempted to say that it feels tactile, even when she sighs out "Shake me down" on 'Beatbeatbeat', since you can almost hear them crawling across the surface of their respective instruments.
Plays Chris & Cosey feels exactly like a narrative arc – and speaking about each song in the singular sense will always feel slightly askew since each track on their albums usually pick up where they last left off. But this one might work best if put on shuffle. That isn't me being critical, quite the opposite really – this collection of songs' mazelike structure indicates just how much lie beneath the surfaces of the songs themselves, and the musicians. You really can get lost here.
Many bands along the axis of industrial, post-punk, electro, dub or even acid, feel beholden to that genre. Carter Tutti has never seemed crippled into one genre, and now there's an authenticity tied to a gravitas that sounds instantly advanced. It's clear that after all this time, and after all their beloved impersonators, they own this world – and it's great to hear they're still living in it.