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Wasteland: What Ails Our People Is Clear Will Ainsley , January 15th, 2021 09:09

Lice provide a much needed stiffener in the midst of all the murk, finds Will Ainsley

Lice’s new record Wasteland: What Ails Our People Is Clear has a musical language built less around chord, melody, or kick drum, and more alloy, rivet, bolt, or hinge. The arrangements seem welded together. The unholy churn of ‘Arbiter’ groans under its own weight. The heavier songs boil and seethe with grand, stentorian missives about “pernicious sexual neuroses” delivered with a kind of frenetic, impish jeer. Vocal cadences at the start of ‘Pariah’ lock into the grinding snare pattern like the mechanical chug of a jackhammer about to run out of batteries, backed by a sheet-metal guitar line trilling like a pneumatic drill. Lice even had a noise machine purpose-built for the record, it’s percussive snicker running around the edges of the tracks ‘Conveyor’ and ‘Espontaneo’.

There are still chinks in the exoskeleton. The chaos is occasionally disrupted by the ceremonial-sounding chord progressions in ‘Serata’ and the woozy loveliness in the first half of ‘Clear’. Despite Alastair Shuttleworth’s howl being so incomprehensible it often may as well be wordless, on ‘Arbiter’ it somehow gels harmonically with the crunching guitars and drums into a brief, semi-choral moment that seems to tear a hole in the very sky. Album highlight ‘Persuader’ clicks and whirrs it’s way along before shyly unfurling into an undeniably pretty, technicolour coda. It’s a tantalising moment of light that evaporates with the opening convulsions of ‘Arbiter’. These small moments of decompression are brief but necessary. Without them, the album might feel unwieldy, a spiky cacophony with no respite.

In a similar way to the increasing political polarisation of our times, my cultural middle grounds have been eroded in favour of stark opposites. In the past eight or so months I’ve been enjoying the shimmering sonic bliss of The Beach Boys and eating lots of baklava, as well as reading Frank Dikötter’s masterful but bleak treatment of the Chinese famine, the only two new records that really struck me being Hey Colossus' Dances/Curses and Lice’s Wasteland. It’s a record like Lice’s that can reinvigorate and re-energise. Yes, it may be at the end of some sort of sonic spectrum but your ears will become less misted and more clear.