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Pineal David Peschek , July 23rd, 2014 08:15

Like a saucer-eyed, hedonistic corollary to the "bag of sharpened secrets" that was Marc Almond's recent Dark London album, this third record by Greek born, London-resident Othon Mataragas and collaborators hints at the cultural "hidden reverse" conjured by Coil and Current 93. Indeed, Othon's first record Digital Angel came out on David Tibet's always forward-thinking Durto/Jnana label, and features a cover of Coil's 'The Dreamer Is Still Asleep' voiced by Tibet, and all three albums feature Almond as a guest vocalist; with the late Peter Christopherson, Othon devised a new soundtrack to Derek Jarman's hallucinatory early film The Angelic Conversation. I can't think of anything that's grabbed my attention with such a savage yet joyous sense of recognition than Almond intoning the lines "dried blood on our fingers, dried sperm in our mouths" in dark, delicate lament 'The Epitaph Of God', one of the standouts on Digital Angel. "We kill our boys to relive the past!": Ouch!

Pineal is in part inspired by Othon's experimentation with ayahuasca – a psychedelic used by indigenous Amazonian peoples for both relief and revelation. A quick trip to Wikipedia reveals that the pineal gland produces a hormone which governs sleep patterns and circadian rhythms, in some (non-human) the pineal eye is a kind of photoceptive "third eye". On a poetic level, you think immediately of the third eye which enlightenment and/or drug use can open, and indeed, the pineal gland is thought to process "recreational" drugs. Anyone remotely prissy about recreational drug use should look away now – indeed the Guardian, writing about Pineal, couldn't quite enthuse about it without call it a "divisive" listen, whatever that means. Pineal is – a horribly over- and mis-used word - dark,  but also wildly joyous, celebratory  - and properly, brilliantly queer.

Opener 'Pineal Kiss' has, as does much of the album, the wonky, irrepressible future-cabaret gaucheness of later, more spun-out Soft Cell or Marc and the Mambas. Othon himself speaks/sings over a brisk, loping beat, and a Brechtian chorus of  voices evangelise with him. It's vertigo inducing in a deeply pleasurable way, unafraid to be entirely itself.  Ernesto Tomasini – a regular collaborator; think somewhere between Klaus Nomi and Martyn Jacques from The Tiger Lillies – glides above the sparse, addictive throb-and shuffle of 'Dawn Yet To Come' with Dionysiac glee. On 'Your Quantum Future' Stuart Smith (Bird Radio) sings "our sperm travels into space…/ One day I feel a boy / the next day I am a girl", as the music performs a similar paradigm-shift between fragile piano-ballad and a kind of brutal samba. 'Puca Puca', 'Tayti', 'Fly' and 'Pasha Dume' all take inspiration from Othon's "transformative" experiences in Brazil, using indigenous musics  and, sometimes, voices; it would be easy to see this as appropriation, but Othon's queerness – the outsider status he embraces – allows him to immerse himself in other cultures without seeming like a tourist or, worse, an imperialist or a collector. 'Puca Puca' weaves its source material with nourish guitar, a combination that makes me think of Gary Indiana's fever-dream AIDS novel Gone Tomorrow  - a heady fictionalised reminiscence of his time in South America working on a film for Dieter Schidor, part of Fassbinder's circle. And here's Almond again, on  'Cobra Coral,' whisking source material from the Brazilian Umbanda religion into a giddy Mambas mambo.

It's perhaps the instrumental pieces on Pineal that I've been going back to most. 'City Shaman' and 'Japan Suite' recall 23 Skidoo and hint a little at Tuxedomoon. There's deceptively little in the arrangements – sometimes just percussion and violin, say – but they create the kind of almost-claustrophobic, ecstatic frenzy seen when Moira Shearer dances herself beyond life in Powell & Pressburger's The Red Shoes. Othon was a classical piano prodigy and despite the hedonistic, exploratory fervour of Pineal, the poise and chops of that discipline are part of what makes this music work – as is, of course, his delicious willingness to fuck with tradition(s).

In 2014, when gay (male) urban life is absurdly commodified and sexualised in the most banal ways, when many gay men are hysterically nervous about their own body fluids – blood, sperm, whatever - when the pinnacle of gay liberation seems to be marriage equality (i.e.: assimilation into heterosexual society) – Othon's Pineal feels not simply divertingly queer (which it is) but also absolutely necessary.  This has been a great year for music – for music from the UK especially – but, listening to Pineal repeatedly, drawn inexorably into its sensual eddies, it becomes increasingly funny, haunting, sexy and true in a way that makes me feel I've been waiting to hear it all my life.