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Reviews

LICE
It All Worked Out Great (Vol. 1 +2) Cal Cashin , July 30th, 2018 15:35

Rabid Bristolian art-punk that's sometimes ludicrous, sometimes deranged, and sometimes laugh out loud funny

LICE make feral, repulsive music that you wouldn’t dare show your parents. It All Worked Out Great vol. 1 & 2 is a sort of ‘early years’ collection, and will give anyone that’s caught wind of their indomitable live reputation a chance to sink their teeth into eight of their most primal songs.

LICE’s sound is hard to pin down, but is ultimately routed in a mutinous rhythm section that can shift from slinky, spidery elegance to fire-breathing mania at the drop of a hat. Alongside this thunderous backline are guitars, scratchy and animalistic. Tilted rockabilly sandstorms ensue, as though played by Billy Yedden’s Deliverance character blackout drunk on moonshine and flailing as though he were on fire. As influenced by metal, gypsy-punk, and rockabilly as they are The Pop Group or Pere Ubu, LICE approach a style of music that has been done to death in a wholly fresh way.

The result is not only electric, but twisted and rural; It All Worked Out Great is not the sound of three city boys playing with guitars, this is the roar of a dust devil, the frenzied clippety-clop of the cowboys on horseback, the sound of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre condensed onto one black disc.

But the focal point of LICE’s attack isn’t the crack-o’-the-whip guitar licks, or the unhinged rumble of the bass guitars, it’s the band’s singer and ringleader Alastair Shuttleworth, who barks his stream-of-consciousness lyrics with even more malice than the rest of the band’s instrumentation put together. Frontmen like Shuttleworth are often derided for their slurred, often spoken-word, deliveries, labelled Mark E. Smith copycats and promptly disregarded. Whilst there are similarities between the LICE head honcho and The Fall’s late Goblin King, it’s important with this band to focus on the differences. Shuttleworth’s delivery is vicious; often his vocals fray as they force their way out of his throat, and his lyrics are all the more ugly at first listen. Listening to The Fall you do often feel like Smith would be ready to start a fight at the flick of a switch, but listening to It All Worked Out Great, it feels as though Shuttleworth is ready to sink his talons into your stomach and tear out your vital organs at any second.

‘Stammering Bill’ is a murky banger that sees a buzzsaw guitar riff married with Shuttleworth’s rabid presence; his narrative is twisted, sick, and enticing the way that all the best art is. He tells the tale of a farmer so obsessed with symmetry that he spends hours every day ensuring the fields are sowed symmetrically. When this character loses an arm to an overzealous threshing machine, he is driven mad by the lack of symmetry on his body and rights this wrong by giving over his remaining arm to the same piece of farming machinery. “Now how’s he supposed to do any farming?” cackles Shuttleworth, our depraved jester.

‘Voyeur Picture Salesman’ is a bastardisation of George Formby’s ‘When I’m Cleaning Windows’, a ramshackle observation of a pervert with sleazy backing vocals to match, whilst ‘Gentleman’s Magazine’ and cornet-driven ‘Ted’s Dead’ consign particularly fiery versions of live favourites to record.

It All Worked Out Great sees LICE already feel like the finished article, despite the fact that it’s a demo-tape. Tetchy and volatile, they’re levels above punk contemporaries not only by their malignance and musicianship, but by their sense of humour also. The band’s music is permeated by their staunch left wing politics, but always in a way that does not feel forced; with a tacky sense of humour, and a perfect sense of the moment.

Indeed, their most explicitly political song, ‘Little John Waynes’ might sarcastically order you: “Treat that ball of cells/Like you would a full grown man.” But that very same song opens with a teetering junkadelic bassline and a rallying cry of “a cowboy can’t be tied down, when he’s cowboying around!” Some aspects of LICE’s music is ludicrous, some of it is deranged, and some of it is laugh out loud funny – and that’s exactly how we like it.

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