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We Sean Kitching , May 5th, 2023 09:36

The Liverpudlian avant-garde pop multimedia ensemble return with another audacious rebuttal of the restrictions of genre and taste, says Sean Kitching

a.P.A.t.T. (an acronym without any specific meaning that anyone has as yet been willing to own up to) have been making difficult to categorise but (relatively easy to enjoy) music and films since 2002. Ogadimma (2012) came with a DVD of 14 short films to accompany its 14 songs, and expressed, often during a single track, multitudes of musical genres. Fun With Music (2016) was more effective still, and for this writer one of the best releases of that year, as well as one of the least celebrated. From the propulsive Devo-esque opener, ‘Yes… That’s Positive’, to the neo-classical/operatic Sparks-like ‘Lickspittle', the Autechre meets Penguin Café Orchestra/Steve Reich vibes of ‘Give My Regards To Bold St’ or the horribly catchy, unshakable bratty pop earworm ‘Take The Bait’, this was some serious music, although perhaps all the fun they were having making it obscured that intent for some. Now We, the band’s first full-length release in almost 7 years, resumes their sublime/ridiculous directive with aplomb.

a.P.A.t.T. are perhaps most spiritually akin to the kind of diverse genre collaging that John Zorn, Mr Bungle or Secret Chiefs 3 engage in, without really sounding, apart from the odd occasion, like any of them. The focus on transcending genre by the likes of Don Cherry or more recently, William Parker, is a conception of a kind of music that could be representative of all of the Earth’s musical traditions. A postmodern take on the notion, however, might include some of the more maddening aspects of modern existence – advertisements and radio jingles, disembodied snippets of movie dialogue, audible incursions of other people’s music on public transport. This is not so much attention deficit music as attention intensive music which rewards time spent with it, particularly for listeners whose taste remains relatively fluid. The recently departed Mark Stewart once said: “Taste is a form of censorship", something a.P.A.t.T. appreciate and toy with the listener’s expectations accordingly. This can sometimes lead to a startling realisation that something potentially unpalatable has appeared on one’s plate, but can also result in eventual appreciation of new flavour combinations.

Opener, ‘The Great Attractor’, ascends with deceptive grace for its first third, as if offering some possibility of transcendence before collapsing in on itself, overstuffed with its own grandeur, then righting itself and continuing anew, via a brief sea shanty and a punk-polka interlude. By far the most pop-oriented track on the album, ‘It Keeps Going’, featuring Los Angeles-based songwriter and artist Dyasono (Anindya Kartika) on vocals, initially threw me, but similarly to the way ‘Take the Bait’ from their previous LP became an at first reluctant obsession, it too had sunk its hooks into me by the third or fourth listen. ‘I Sigh: You Sigh’ is more epic in scope, its dreamy violin and clarinet chamber music vibe accelerated by the addition of electronics and the repetitions of systems music. ‘Porca’ throws some klezmer into the mix, an almost operatic vocal riding an impassioned melody of swooping violin strings, clarinet and joyously erupting sax. ‘Solipsism’ toys with being deliberately irritating. Sampling itself, spitting out glitches, by its end transformed to a nightmarish proliferation of syllables from out of which crawls a creepy, deconstructed fairground melody. I didn’t like it when I first heard it and I’m not sure that I do now either. That uncertainty though, crucially means that the door remains open.

‘Cigarettes And Margarine’ is a soaring, electronic anthem that sounds like shallow music composed to sell you things, but manages to lift you upwards anyway, despite your protestations to the contrary. ‘Plump In The Mud’ might just be my favourite track. A series of curveball reveals from the onset, a synth and vocoder-heavy R&B-influenced section becomes saturated with old school BBC Radiophonic Workshop style pulses, out of which erupts 20 seconds of the best Cardiacs-like music I’ve heard to date that that is not actually them. The song then spends the final minute of its duration, slowly unravelling into the ether. In case anyone listening might have missed that part, the band repeat the manoeuvre immediately with the 18 second ‘Walking Around Proper Looking At Things’, which sounds even more like Cardiacs.

At this juncture, the album veers off into more abstract territories with two sound collage pieces, the point of which may forever escape me, however many times I return to them, or may appear genie-like at my next listen. ‘The People You Know’ is the one instance on We where a.P.A.t.T. sound a little too like Mr Bungle. Closer ‘DOOM II: Hell on Earth’ opts for a last minute helping of metal and wigged-out electronics, as if the band suddenly remembered that they’d left a genre out. I’m not, as yet, entirely sure what I think of the latter third of the album, given that not all of the preceding two-thirds came to me immediately even though they are now etched indelibly into my mind. Perhaps that will come in time, or perhaps like certain of those present at a.P.A.t.T’s last London gig, where the band decided to open their festival slot with the metal last track of their new album in order to confuse the audience, I’ll always be wondering “WTF is going on?” The uncertainty, somehow, seems to be part of the appeal.