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Abstract Concrete
Abstract Concrete Sean Kitching , November 20th, 2023 08:24

The debut album from Charles Hayward’s new group lives up to the promise of their brilliant live shows for Sean Kitching

The prospect of Charles Hayward forming a new band, after deciding that the impetus to do more (This is Not) This Heat shows was waning and his desire to record new material becoming too difficult to ignore, was enormously exciting when I first heard of it. That the new band was intended to be a continuation from the song-based but still experimental worlds he first conjured as a member of This Heat and then Camberwell Now, was enough to set up high expectations right from the start. Seeing the band come together at their first shows, with Agathe Max on viola, Roberto Sassi on guitar, Yoni Silver on keyboards and bass clarinet, and Otto Willberg on bass and double bass, did not disappoint either. Neither, when I finally got to hear it, did the recording.

Both of Hayward’s previous bands were characterised by their inclusion of non-musicians in their rosters and by certain strong moods established in their soundscapes by such unique elements as the ambience of This Heat’s one-time meat locker studio, Cold Storage, or the innovative tape manipulations of Steve Rickard in Camberwell Now. Both bands also had virtuoso musicians too, of course, in the form of Hayward himself on drums and the incredible bass skills of Trefor Goronwy in Camberwell Now. This new group, with its younger but well-seasoned band of improvisers, differs in the former respect, but crucially also feels like a proper unit who have developed their songs together, rather than just a backing band for their most famous member.

There are a lot of different elements in the mix here – prog, reggae, folk, loungecore, even a little disco – and perhaps some listeners may initially feel a little inclined towards indigestion. However, the vision behind it all is singular and persuasive and balances its more unconventional aspects with strong harmonies and vivid lyricism. These are memorable songs with irresistible hooks, wonderfully heartfelt vocals expressing a deep empathy and humanity that nevertheless maintain a disarming sense of humour (as in their slightly groan-worthy but apt avant-garde musician joke of a name), as well as thrilling, improvisation-derived passages during which the band take off into outer space. Opener ‘Almost Touch’ clearly establishes its progressive humanitarian agenda amidst warm analogue keyboards and the strong emotional pull of Max’s viola: “There’s still more work for us to do, first of all tear down these walls with our bare hands”. The dub-reggae influenced lilt of ‘This Echo’ brings a calm and beautiful moment of respite, following on the heels of the previous track’s wild ending.

‘Sad Bogbrush’ smuggles a warning against the masses that empower fascists, past, present and future, inside its seemingly innocuous lounge-jazz exterior. Previously Hayward had referred to Hitler directly in an earlier version of the song but here chooses to infer him by the allusive title, making his point about the primacy of those who empower such leaders all the more valid. ‘Ventriloquist/Dummy’, begins with some tricky time-changes before becoming suffused with Max’s wonderfully human sounding viola. Centrepiece and album highlight, ‘The Day the Earth Stood Still’, with its elegiac refrain of “Goodbye Rock & Roll”, is surely capable of inducing simultaneous joy and melancholy in anyone who has ears to hear it and a heart to feel it with. That track performed live remains a thing of great beauty with an utterly beguiling vocal performance from Hayward. It sounds great here too, but anyone interested in Hayward’s past glories should do themselves a favour and go see them play as well as picking up this wonderful release.