c / a


The new album by c / a is a wild conceptronic ride but one that pays off in giddy acid squiggles and a healthy dose of 'horse riding ambient', finds Jared Dix

The debut full length from London AV duo c / a is an entertaining head melter. Mixing up artificial intelligence with Arcadian fantasy and the occult with deconstructed club sounds, The Only Way We Know To Have Fun does not bring the unity of sweaty dancefloor jams but the atomised connectivity of the terminally online. Putting the fun back into digital dysfunction, if you will.

A gooey puzzle of information overload, the record comes wrapped in a mix of conceptual art speak and knowing humour. The visual side of the project rejoices in the name England’s Council of Legislation and Governing Body of Hyper-Real Simulations and Constructs, which I think gives a good sense of what you’ll find if you open this up.

The cover art features an array of overlaid images and texts, a chocolate box painting of a lady on horseback and her knight in armour bears the legend ‘Spotify link to a lovely piece of music from Minecraft…’ There’s a short track of choral vocals and broken, phasing loops, called ‘A Lovestory In The Medieval England Of 2186’, which reveals the central conceit. A time-hole romance revealed in junk collage vignettes of twenty-first century electro flotsam. Ophelia drowning in the data stream. For c / a, the possibilities of generative machine intelligence are magical, an unpredictable force they seek to engage but not fully control. Beat grids and genre tropes rupture, new shapes cohere and collapse, discontinuities abound. Iconoclasm becomes the new frame, weirdness writhes within carefully set parameters.

So, it’s front loaded with big ideas but can it get from under its own feet and transcend them? The inputs are generally removed from the dance floor, broken up and recombined. ‘Docile Goetica’ apparently features Rachmaninoff samples buried among all the pre-sets and fractious club beats rushing upwards into a chaotic sci-fi battlescape. In the choice of blank, shopworn samples, and in the accompanying visuals, they attempt a negotiation with the built in obsolescence of tech based arts. If it already feels a little ragged and dated, it’s because their intent is not a shiny new sonic surface but to make new forms from the old. ‘Docile Goetica’ builds to a glitching sound clash, but other possibilities are explored, the album is not a mush of randomly overlaid and interfering signals even if it occasionally feels like it. Chaos is harnessed for its radical potential but not allowed to run wild.

Just as you’re settling in for the abstract migraine ride ‘HORSES’ breezes in. A sighing, heavenly interlude that’s probably what they meant by ‘horse riding ambient’ being a part of their sound. It cools your fevered brow ready for the heart pounding, heat stroke high of ‘FYCK SOLIPSISM GABBER’ which clears the path in exhilaratingly direct style, sparkling notes riding above the punishing beat. This pair of tracks provide a grounding amid the more fractured pieces and a clear indication of a careful compositional approach. Key track ‘THE PRIMER’ uses melodies conjured by an early neural network and is named for the initial seed used to generate them, but it’s not cold and cerebral. Its bright, chiming, tones are elegantly arranged behind a narration that sounds like a Disney princess taking a personal day.

Things cohere comfortably on ‘Sodastream Bells And Blades Of Grass’, the title perfectly catching the feel of the bright descending melody that loops over pounding techno beats. It’s a really enjoyable track that sees them cut loose and flow but then they hit you with ‘GAELICORE’ which is a conundrum. Yes, it does indeed mix Uilleann pipe reels with pumping hardcore, throwing in a grime MC for good measure before dissolving into acid squiggles and the cheering rave massive. It’s peak “is this a pisstake?” territory and yet, somehow, it isn’t. Neither slapstick breakcore caricature nor earnest ‘rave is a folk music’ lecture, it dances merrily between the two and almost gets away with it. The piper must be paid after all, and you have to imagine the medieval speedcore comedown is an evil beast. On the lengthy final track, juddering, misfiring beats threaten to puncture the pleasing ambient melodies and birdsong with unbidden flashbacks. Kaleidoscopic perspectives swamping reductive clarity and erasing certainty.

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