In a “self-interview” conducted with himself in 2005 regarding his film Edvard Munch, famed British director Peter Watkins explores the unusual sense of time in his work: “The film [works] in a complex structure, one in which past, present and future swirl in and out of each other, in which complex patterns of repetition, fragments of memory, recurring motifs, the use of sound, the breaking of rigid synchronisation […] all play a key role… as they do in the lives of each of us”. That sentence could almost been seen as a manifesto for all the hauntology/hypnagogia acts that have sprung up in the last few years, but no act out there really encapsulates it like Vindicatrix. After all, his debut album, Die Alten Bösen Lieder, apart from showcasing his out-of-time voice, was a bizarre collision between fitful electronica/techno and, of all things, traditional German song. It’s hard to get a more fragmented use of the sense of time than that.
Mengamuk is both an advancement on and departure from the material Vindicatrix aka David Aird laid down on Die Alten Bösen Lieder. Unlike on that album, Aird seems to be less concerned with a set period in time and underlying style (German lieder), but rather with unveiling and even unleashing his own, deeply personal visions of the modern era, even if doing so means casting his eyes both forward and backwards in time, meaning there’s a stronger emphasis on the electro, industrial and dub techno influences that were already present on his debut. Indeed, the Mordant Music website describes Mengamuk as “bass music”, and whilst that seems a stretch, it’s nonetheless obvious that Aird has had his ears more closely trained to the sounds emanating from London’s clubs, be it dubstep or the darkened techno of the Blackest Ever Black crew. Both ‘Truceless Warfare’ and ‘Remote Viewers’ are wonderfully uneasy takes on dance music tropes, involving queasy, sub-aquatic beats and coiled synth lines edging forwards in uneasy alliance. Where Vindicatrix deviates most effectively from the rest of the “alternative” dance artists out there is that these rhythms rarely, if ever, form the backbone of the tracks, with his singular voice (more of that later) acting instead as a disconnected counterpoint, dragging the melodies into unfamiliar territory. ‘Remote Viewers’ is the closest he ever comes to recognisable techno tropes, in the same manner as Die Alten‘s ‘Dein Scwert’ but, like that song, preserves enough obliqueness to ensure it won’t be spinning on many Fabric DJs’ turntables anytime soon.
Trying to find connections between Aird and, say, Burial or Kode 9, however, is one of many red herrings he tends to pitch the listener’s way. Perhaps his closest musical cousins would be industrial pioneers Throbbing Gristle (again, blurring lines between past and present…). Like his illustrious predecessors, Aird demonstrates an ambivalence towards percussion that means that tracks lurch and stumble with mechanical precision, as if refusing to be sucked into the kind of rhythmic organicness that characterises “regular” percussive music. Rhythm patterns stop and start, always at a distance from whatever else is going on, by turns dissolving into abstract quietude or baleful slabs or grimy noise, very much in the spirit of TG’s Second Annual Report, before the bass pulsations and metallic clumps combine again, bouncing off their creator’s moody, often unintelligible vocalisations.
The second half, which includes the atmospheric, slovenly ‘Only Flashes (What Was the Nature of the Catastrophe)’ and ‘Runaway Prey’ (which sounds not too dissimilar to TG’s ‘Convincing People’ played at the pace of ‘Persuasion’). Like TG, the resultant tunes reveal a form of murky psychogeography, with industrial clangs and gloomy atmospheres evoking cramped, rain-sodden cities and unfriendly wilderness. It’s always hard to judge how much of this is an artist’s intent, and it’s certainly less clear with Vindicatrix than with TG (despite Baron Mordant’s stream-of-consciousness blurb that takes in Camberwell, Terrengganu, the DLR and Basingstoke), but it’s the result that matters, and it’s hard not to associate vistas of dread skies and oppressive industry running through the music on Mengamuk.
The construction of the tracks will also draw inevitable comparisons with latter-period Scott Walker, as will – and has – Aird’s distinctive croon. Like Walker on his seminal Tilt and The Drift albums, Aird tends to build his pieces using “blocks” of sound, contributing to the jarring juxtapositions mentioned above. On opener ‘Cellophane’, wispy atmospherics cradle Aird’s fragile moan before creaking metal sound effects slide into view. As the track dissolves into noisy percussive abstraction, Aird leaps to the fore, howling “I need an organ! / What’s an organ between friends?”, a line so bizarre it manages to dodge being camp and turns out to be rather thrilling.Like Walker, David Aird seems inhabited by his music, conveying a visceral physicality that also draws comparisons with the likes of Antony Hegarty and Marc Almond. He shares little of their romanticism however, instead proposing a bleak and unsettling vision, like something out of Tarkovsky’s Stalker. Ultimately, Vindicatrix’s close resemblance to Scott Walker is yet another false start, as the way he tugs at history, both musical and social, while drawing in reference points in what filters out of his radio and the art scenes he frequents, is decidedly idiosyncratic. Mengamuk is the best embodiment of his complex vision to date, and stands as a rather unique work of art.