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Father Murphy
Pain Is On Our Side EP Tristan Bath , February 13th, 2014 07:21

It's a trick that's been pulled before, yet ritualising the listening experience by releasing tracks that have been physically split up, designed to be only fully realised by synchronised playback using multiple systems, has perhaps never been undertaken by a more befitting group. Father Murphy's Pain is On Our Side presents us with four sides of vinyl, each playable on its own as with any four track EP, but with the additional option of synchronised playback for tracks one & three, or two & four, ostensibly coalescing into two new tracks.

The Flaming Lips' Zaireeka is undoubtedly the best known example, though that affair succumbed to the sort of faux experimental posturing that continues to dog the Lips' worst output. Neurosis/Tribes of Neurot did the same thing with Times of Grace, though actually spinning the albums side-by-side is more annoying than revelatory, and it's rumoured that the 5 discs of Buckethead's Monolith (released under his Death Cube K moniker) were also meant to be played in sync - although quite why he'd keep that to himself is beyond me. Like digging for any serendipitous moment in Dark Side Of The Rainbow or deludedly searching for satanic messages in Stairway To Heaven, the bizarre act seems to be all smoke and mirrors. A desperate attempt to add 'moreness' unnecessarily, or worse yet to veil a distinct artistic lowpoint. With Father Murphy however, it is these very smoke and mirrors that make them so insatiably listenable.

From the harbingers of occultism and eroticism lifted from their nation's giallo tradition, to their theatrically adopted pseudo-religious personas (unless Murphy's a real-life 'padre', in which case I can only beg his forgiveness), this Italian group are a 'cult' band in every sense of the word. Anyway Your Children Will Deny It took their ritualistic theatrics to harrowing further depths, managing to capture real 'darkness' without succumbing, as is so commonly the case, to indecipherability, harshness and volume to get there. Donning a cloak and edging into black occultism doesn't have to call for downtuned guitars and corpse paint.

The Stephen O'Malley and Michael Gira-endorsed outfit, Akron/Family trod similar ground on last year's Sub Verses, albeit with a tad less Suspiria and a touch more Pet Sounds than what Father Murphy tend toward. It's too often lazily dubbed as being 'psychedelic', but it's more a mere willingness to use any and every available sound along the path to the heart of darkness. EP opener, 'Let the Wrong Rise with You' careens straight into a crackling blast of baritone sax sprawling its way seemingly across the innards of a church. Furiously battling with percussive pounding it's joined by further brass and/or woodwind for a menacing, almost Orffian minor interlude leading to a closing passage of sparse snare drums, organs and searching picked guitar notes that gradually dissolve into the shadows. Thus endeth the first lesson.

The other three sides cover similarly disjointed ground, going on to introduce pained vocals and occasional choral interludes, but largely remaining deep in morose ritualistic abstraction, with a rich variety of instrumentation and stream-of-consciousness song structures. 'They Will All Fail You' (track three, and the mirror to 'Let the Wrong Rise with You') encircles the listener with a dozen multi-tracked vocals, screaming and musing with varying degrees of blood curdling volume. Later the track gives way to fibrous drones punctuated with drum stabs before the climactic choral passage. There's already enough drama in these four tracks to make this recommended listening, but hearing sides one and three together (against expectations) makes it essential. That opening blast of sax becomes a duet 'Let the Wrong's encircling vocals, the brass-led Orffian minor interlude is now a funeral march with the addition of drums, and the closing chorale of track three is now punctuated with picked guitar and organs.

In some ways it raises questions about the hodgepodge nature of modern production, as its perhaps arguable that this is a two song EP with the instruments simply split across vinyl sides. The split incarnations of the songs however, stand alone, never feeling lacking or as if missing a piece. Most vitally, the whole affair ritualises the listening experience, and when peeking into the murky and bizarre world of Father Murphy, it should most definitely require something of a ritual to earn rite of passage.