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Exploded View
Exploded View Joe Banks , August 23rd, 2016 13:59

Exploded View have a particularly well-chosen name: according to Wikipedia, an ‘exploded view’ shows an object “as if there had been a small controlled explosion emanating from the middle”. It captures the vibe of their debut album perfectly — a sense of everything having been pulled apart, its guts on display, but somehow holding it together despite the damage done.

Initially assembled as a backing band for singer/musician Annika Henderson aka Anika, Exploded View quickly evolved into a creative entity in their own right – the line-up is completed by Martin Thulin, Hugo Quezada and Hector Melgarejo. After a series of rehearsals and live performances in Mexico City, they recorded this album in first takes straight to tape. And it’s a remarkably visceral document, a stark, flesh-and-blood rendering of a band in the grip of a sonic compulsion.

Let’s address a couple of things upfront. Firstly, Anika sings in an accented, dispassionate monotone with a hint of mania around its edges, which means that, as a female vocalist, comparisons with Nico are inevitable – but there’s no reason why we shouldn’t also be talking about Ian Curtis, for instance. However, she sounds less doomed than either of them, more a lone voice of sanity amid the carnage. Secondly, her previous self-titled album was made with Geoff Barrow’s BEAK> – yet while that was a bare bones, no wave dub affair, Exploded View might actually have made an album that matches the spiky intensity of Portishead’s Third.

‘Lost Illusions’ immediately drags the listener into its claustrophobic orbit, a slurred guitar stretched on the rack of a frantic, rumbling bass pulse. It feels nightmarish and disorientating, but Anika remains coolly detached from it all, airily declaiming “Illusion!” before inciting us to “Sell your clothes and sell your soul”. This theme of a modern world where capitalist realism has curdled into spiritual fatalism is returned to throughout the album.

‘One Too Many’ is more restrained, but seethes with tension. There’s a Broadcast-like false calm to it, spookily serene keys playing behind a pained, splintering guitar, as Anika sings, “You’re at my door at 5am again / Broken nose and bloodied eye”. ‘Stand Your Ground’ has the same dual nature, its lovely Mellotron flute melody counterbalanced by Anika at her most melancholic; she’s almost Bowie-esque in her intonation, as she broods on what it takes to deal with day to day existence, the narratives we force-fit ourselves into: “Most of what you feel is just a tale anyway”. And ‘Lark Descending’ is an unsettling lullaby, glass on the nursery carpet from the brick that somebody’s just thrown through the window.

Elsewhere, the songs have a restless propulsion to them that channels the rhythmic and spatial experimentation of the late 70s. ‘Orlando’ is celestial punk funk, Gang Of Four as house band in heaven, dazzling spirals of synth rising above a thumping undercarriage. ‘Disco Glove’ is more furious still – a see-sawing clank of rusty machinery against which Anika delivers a stream-of-consciousness rant about Robert De Niro, beamed direct from the black hellhole of some pre-unification Berlin club. And ‘No More Parties In The Attic’ has the same predatory lurch as Big Black’s ‘Kerosene’, evoking a similar world of anomie and violence: “We’re living in the glory days / Where nothing really matters.”

It’s not all grim by any means. ‘Gimme Something’ begins in Kraut dub territory, its imperial melody offering a glimpse of New Europa, before turning into a swaggering narcotic rocker. But the darkness reasserts itself on closing track ‘Killjoy’, taking us somewhere dank and subterranean. Anika repeats, “You’re a killjoy, little boy’, but it feels more like psychic self-abrasion than catharsis.

Exploded View is the type of album that seeps into your soul. Consciously designed or not, it exposes various unpalatable truths about the way we live now and turns them into frightening, spellbinding music.