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The Lead Review

Back To The Future: The Body's I've Seen All I Need To See
Bernie Brooks , January 28th, 2021 09:44

The Body's latest LP, I've Seen All I Need To See, is a monstrously heavy, crushingly bleak monument to humankind's ruin, says Bernie Brooks

Today, for the first time, I found it difficult to listen to The Body. Two days ago, on 6 January 2021, armed insurrectionists sacked the US Capitol Building, however buffoonishly, at the behest of an outgoing president, himself a buffoon egged on and enabled for weeks by prominent members of his own party, themselves clowns working to subvert the will of the people as decided in as fair an election as we can manage on this side of the pond. In any case, it was a dark day, a deeply embarrassing, depressing day, of which the ramifications are still unclear. To be sure, now more than ever, the mainline Democratic position of national unity and healing and bipartisanship, as embodied by Joe Biden, seems more quixotic, more naïve than ever. So, as I popped on my headphones and sat down to write this, the record I heard, The Body's latest LP, I've Seen All I Need To See, sounded radically different than the album I first listened to months prior. Could be it is objectively more intense than their previous work. Could be I need a good, long lie-down and Enya on infinite loop. Who’s to say at this point?

I have until now entirely eschewed the typically hyperbolic notion circulating in the music press that The Body’s Chip King and Lee Buford are black-souled miserablists spewing harrowing screeds into the cosmos, endurance tests not for the faint of heart. I still don’t fully buy it, not really. I like listening to The Body. But I’ve Seen All I Need To See sometimes feels like something else altogether, even by their standards. As an album it’s almost impenetrably, crushingly black. The only light, however blinding, is melancholy and bittersweet, emerging briefly near the end of the album opener and standout, ‘A Lament’, and snuffed out in minutes. The rest is coal black. Pitch black. Carbon black. Bone black.

There’s this famous photo, taken in the 19th century in what we now think of as Del Ray, one of those old, once-vibrant, now-undead neighborhoods in Detroit, Michigan, irredeemably blighted by heavy industry. Del Ray was a riverside village whose founders carved their prosperity out of an ancient, massive, 40-foot tall Indigenous burial mound. It was well over a thousand years old and covered an acre, more or less. Over time, as they dug, they unearthed the remains of around 1,300 people. These were chucked, unceremoniously, into the Detroit River. The fine sand that made up the mound itself was sold and dispersed. Eventually, in the late 1800s, the Michigan Carbon Works landed in the area. It was a huge site, “Boneville”, covering 72 acres. You process carbon by cooking and cooking and cooking animal bones. In America, those of bison and buffalo were primarily used, although human remains scavenged from Indigenous burial sites were used often enough during bone shortages that the practice had to be deemed unacceptable. Bone char was, among other things, particularly good for refining sugar liquors and renowned for its quality as a pigment. Today, there’s a neighborhood in Del Ray named after Boneville: Carbon Works. And a street: Carbon St. You can imagine.

Anyway, the photo. In it, there’s an immense pile of bleached buffalo and bison skulls, maybe 30 feet tall, give or take, stretching back, back, back toward the horizon. There’s a guy up top holding one of the skulls and a guy on the bottom with his foot jauntily perched atop another. They’re clearly proud of their work.

Removed of context, it really is an incredible image – the sort of pic that could be phony, that sends you over to Snopes just in case. But it’s real. And listening to this record, I kept thinking of it. The pile of skulls? That’s I've Seen All I Need To See. Those guys? Just Chip and Lee, atop their horrible monument to humankind’s ruin.

A horrible monument is a monument all the same, and in that light, it’s possible that I’ve Seen All I Need To See is one of The Body’s great achievements. It’s certainly one of Seth Manchester’s. The Body’s longtime compatriot and recording engineer, Manchester is one of heavy music’s great facilitators. To me, he’s a wandering pilgrim of the Dub Zone, capable of conjuring impossibly vast caverns of crackling space for simpatico collaborators like The Body to fill with low-end and otherwise defile as they see fit. The sound on this LP is the sound of Manchester’s Machines With Magnets being utilised to its fullest extent – maybe even pushed further than that, until it’s bigger on the inside than on the outside. It’s the sound of a band and an engineer completely in sync with one another. And what a sound! This is an album that literally sizzles. I’m not kidding. That’s the sound it makes.

But how does it feel?

Have you ever been to a steel mill? Looked into the white-hot, molten stuff? A guy I know used to work in them. He’s a talker, even a bit of a fabulist. So, this guy, he once told me that if you happen to be unlucky enough to fall into a vat of it, the heat is so intense that the meat of your body never even makes contact with the liquid metal. It gets vaporised right off your bones. And maybe even your bones are vaporised, too. We’re simply not made to handle it, corporeally speaking. To be honest, I have no idea if this is true. It doesn’t seem like it, does it? But that’s how the sound of I've Seen All I Need To See feels: like it could evaporate you, its thunderous, doomed chug playing out like the 1510-degrees-celsius musique concrète of melted iron.

There are surprising things on this record, things that’ll find you wrong-footed and land like a sucker punch. There’s the bluetooth on the fritz stutter-stop drop-out at the beginning of ‘A Lament’, the headfake of its desiccated, post-rock beauty. There’s Chrissy Wolpert’s looping piano figure that accompanies King and Ben Eberle as they holler and growl their way toward the end of ‘The City Is Shelled’. The black-hole, deep-sea pulse that periodically expands and contracts throughout ‘They Are Coming’. The tumbling free-jazz drums that puncture the suffocating drone of ‘Path Of Failure’ in a thousand places.

There are surprising things that aren’t on this record. Aside from Wolpert and Eberle, and Max Goldman on drums, there are no additional players. This is no orgy of collaboration in the way that recent “proper” records by The Body have been, and that comes through. At heart, this is clearly the product of King and Buford and Manchester, or at least it feels that way. It certainly doesn’t have the community-effort vibe of LPs like No One Deserves Happiness or I Have Fought Against It, But I Can’t Any Longer. There are none of the female vocalists that fans of The Body have come to expect, either – just King's endless, inimitable shriek and Eberle’s throaty black metal gurgle. There are no expansive excursions into, say, dancehall territory or the club. No skittering beats or R&B and pop trappings. Formally speaking, this is the straight-up doomiest thing The Body have made in a long while.

Do I occasionally miss those things that aren't there? Yeah, a little. Does the comparative formalism of I’ve Seen All I Need To See seem a little less thrilling than The Body’s recent, genre-obliterating collaboration with MSC, I Don’t Ever Want To Be Alone? Yeah, a little.

Taken as is, on its own, is I’ve Seen All I Need To See still an idiosyncratic, singularly heavy listening experience? Absolutely.

Can you step backward to move forward? That’s a question hanging in the air like an axe, like a guillotine blade. The answer: I don’t know; it depends. Politically, while I’m ecstatic to see the Trump admin done and dusted, it seems doubtful. How do you turn back the clock to an era that probably never existed at all? Artistically, The Body, having backed away from a largely sample-based approach and turned toward their roots as a guitar-and-drum duo, may have pulled it off. Though it was recorded in 2019 and released in 2021, the unyielding, roiling tumult of Chip and Lee's heap of skulls seems destined to be defined by the bleakest moments of a roiling, tumultuous 2020, to stand as a horrible monument to its tragedies large and small. That is, unless 2021 is just as crap.