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Album Of The Week

Baby Wants To Ride: Gabe Gurnsey’s Physical
Anna Wood , August 10th, 2018 10:36

Gabe Gurnsey, one half of Factory Floor, has moved up North and made a rave album. It is filthy and brilliant, immaculate and unsettling

Listening to this album feels good, because it sounds good. It is squelchy and hard; it makes you want to have sex and take E. You have no doubt that the person who made it knows what they’re doing; every delicious ingredient of filthy disco rave is here. Hello weirdly funky cowbell, hello 808 snare, hello soft muddy throbs, giddy handclaps, Doppler echoes and sirens, arcade game zaps, sub-rib shudders.

It makes you feel good at first, that is, and then it makes you feel lots of other things too. Gurnsey said in a recent Q interview that the idea and structure of the album is the arc of a night out, and while there’s nothing so clear as a narrative here there’s definitely the feeling of a descent into woozy adventures, the feeling of staying til the bitter end, of nights out that are explorations into what happens when you keep going, like a rave Ranulph Fiennes, into lands that lie beyond absolutely fucked. (You get a hint of that just by the tracklist - the third song is called ‘Temazzy’, and that’s a bit early for benzos by anyone’s standards.)

We start, though, at a sublime peak. The first song, ‘Ultra Clear Sound’, opens with a kind of sci-fi version of on-the-beach-in-Ibiza bongos and then, maybe 16 bars in, it opens out so beautifully and you’re in a magic place where Miami Vice, daydreams and townie nightclubs with sticky carpets all mingle together in a warm bath of fantasy and silliness and slinky-hip dancing and a direct line between your pelvis and your giddy imagination.

That moment, that early release about 38 seconds from the beginning of the album, is delight. You want to listen to it over and over. It is the money shot. It’s quiet and unfussy, really, but so satisfying. Already, though, something sinister is half submerged (a bit like, sometimes, when you take an E and have sex). There is pleasure but not joy, and then the pleasure begins to wear out. The banging and the throbbing get a bit dark, a bit sad.

It’s the vocals, partly. They belong in that long and often great tradition of slightly sleazy rave vocals. That ‘Baby Wants To Ride’ voice, or the “ecstasy ecstasy” in Joey Beltram’s ‘Energy Flash’ that, the more you hear it, the more it gets a bit unsettling. (One of the magic things about rave is that is knows how repetition can create disturbance and well as pleasure.) And the lyrics are in that long and often great tradition of daftly sexy rave lyrics: “I just wanna uh-uh-uh” from ‘Night Track’ can sit alongside Loose Joints’ ‘Is It All Over My Face?’

The songs on this album keeps going, though, in a way that those songs don’t. And where disco and rave came from a hedonistic and sometimes activist Gay Sex In The 70s tradition, this album is doing something else. He repeats the lead phrase in ‘A Harder Love Creates A Harder Rhythm’, over and over, and it does sound convincing - meaningless and convincing in the way that great lyrics often do - but it also sounds like something you might hear from a hot-but-wrong-un bloke in a nightclub, somehow very hetero and a bit creepy. Gurnsey mentions in that interview that he’s been going out to a club in Macclesfield called Fever & Boutique (“It can be quite an experience, quite messy”). It’s fair to imagine (and anyway I’ve googled it) that Fever & Boutique is one in a long line of those townie nightclubs with sticky carpets, places of joy and carnage. It’s a pretty perfect dance track, and it feels tawdry as well as gorgeous.

There’s women’s vocals on the album too, alongside Gurnsey’s, which is maybe one reason why it all feels so straight, so weirdly hetero in a genre that isn’t. Like Lil Louis’ ‘French Kiss’, one raver’s sexy tune is another raver’s creepy vibes; on this album, the creepy vibes come and go. There are whispers, uncertainty, distorted late-night feelings. The women’s vocals are mostly that detached, arch, cool style that can work brilliantly (from Grace Jones to Justine Frischmann to Janet Planet of Confidence Man) or can misfire. They don’t misfire here, but they add to the feeling of a night that’s going on too long or of pleasure that has turned into something discombobulating.

And there’s something compellingly awry with the songs that are more explicitly sexy. On ‘Heavy Rubber’, for example, and on ‘I Get’, where the more you hear the repeated hook lyric - “the feeling I get when I’m with you” the more you wonder, actually, what the feeling is. The more you might think of mouths too dry for blowjobs, cocks that can’t deliver what their chang-ed up owner promises, or just of wanting to curl up gently under a duvet in the dark.

By the closing trio of ‘AM Crystal’ and ‘Night Track’ and ‘The Last Channel’, the arc of the night that Gurnsey mentioned has landed in places that are darker and harder and weirder than that Ibiza beach at sunset where we started. You’re not even on a comedown, yet, you’re still getting juddering bouts of the urge to dance, delicate feelings of bliss. You might be back at someone’s house, in the corner with a brew, fried and empty but not ready to go home. Something is wonky, bleary. But it still feels good, on balance, and you still want to do it again. You want to go back to the start and that first beautiful release.