This Heat was founded in 1975 by drummer Charles Hayward, previously of Gong and Phil Manzanera’s Quiet Sun, but nothing in his previous work could've prepared listeners for the aural onslaught here.
The Velvet Underground is an obvious precedent, as is the work of certain progressive artists on the weirder side of things - King Crimson, Peter Hammill, Henry Cow, and especially the krautrock masters - This Heat reprocessed those influences into a unique voice, one that's still leaving ripples in experimental rock 30 years on, and the band's small catalogue is one of the missing links between those artists and post-rock and noise-rock - in fact, just about every kind of experimental rock to emerge since 1980 or so.
Remember the post-apocalyptic 1959 Cold War epic On the Beach
, in which Fred Astaire gasses himself in his garage? Much of the movie centers around a search for the source of a lone telegraph signal coming from somewhere in bombed-out San Francisco. I doubt that’s the specific image This Heat were going for with the isolated beeps and bloops that open and close this album, but it may as well have been.
The two and a half years of recording that went into this album (Feb. 1976 to Sep. 1978) may be a period primarily associated with the emergence of punk rock, but no band from that era was more politically confrontational than this bunch of prog/rock refugees. This Heat
is progressive rock in the best sense of the word - an album that simultaneously drags music kicking and screaming into the present, yet remains brutally in tune with its own time.
The crazy thing about This Heat’s work is how little it has dated. Where Kraftwerk’s 'Pong'-era synths and drum machines sound a bit quaint nowadays, the largely technology-independent tape-spliced beats on “24 Track Loop” are as timeless as experimental music gets.
The band go for the throat with the opening “Horizontal Hold”, a guitar bulldozer that makes way for the delicate “Not Waving”, a coupling that brings to mind the one-two of King Crimson’s debut. But This Heat mostly avoid Crimsonian bombast in favor of a constant dull ache.
The swirling, shimmering proto-post-rock ballad “Not Waving” could almost pass for something off Kid A
if the analogue tape didn’t seem to audibly strain against the weight of sound pressing down upon it. Even the lyrics are Radiohead-ish, with Hayward murmuring something about how we should please not rescue him from slowly freezing to death somewhere in the middle of the ocean.
Possibly the album’s crowning achievement is “The Fall of Saigon” - a beautifully oppressive funeral dirge - with a guitar solo that segues seamlessly into the final computer bleeps of “Testcard” ... this isn't simply ‘intriguing’ avant–garde music for later songwriters and producers to pore over, this is music that fulfills its own promise.
Posted: Wednesday 5th Jul 2017 8:36 AM
Perhaps incorporating some punk influence, This Heat's second album is noticeably more song-oriented than the first, and the band spend less time stretching out with extended grooves, instead playing something that could perhaps
be categorized as 'guitar rock'. Mind you, it's more the sort of territory occupied by Pere Ubu and The Pop Group, rather than The Ramones.
Sometimes it’s just a fake-out, like on “Paper Hats”, a multi-part track that starts as a bludgeoning rock song, slams into an industrial free/jazz break, then finds equilibrium as a radioactive funk jam, whereas “SPQR” is an almost straightforward post-punk anthem set in a decaying Roman Empire.
The band continues its admirable refusal to repeat itself - no song here sounds like any of the others, or for that matter like any song on the debut. “Shrink Wrap” - actually a remix of opening track “Sleep” - is a brief percussion/chant freakout that precalls Animal Collective. And “Radio Prague” takes a Suicide beat, some creepy strings, and creates a sort of fuzz bassline out of twiddling a radio knob to the rhythm.
The core of the album is the penultimate sequence of “Makeshift Swahili”, “Independence”, and “A New Kind of Water”. “Swahili” is a wild noise-rock blowout, built around a bludgeoning riff and what sounds at times like a death metal growl, with vast droning keyboard chords hanging over the whole thing like the Hindenburg.
“Independence” sets Thomas Jefferson’s call to revolution to a 'world music' backing, or - more like the melted remains of world music. The haunting malformed melody and crescendo of perfectly mismatched fragments breathe new life into the song’s tired but still powerful words.
“A New Kind of Water” could be a less apathetic refugee from the Daydream Nation
sessions, driven by some invasively syncopated work from the ryhthm section. That's followed by the spare “Hi Baku Shyo”, which is a bit of an afterthought, but I suppose it works as a comedown while the credits roll.
Fans will forever disagree about which of the band's two albums is the best. The debut is a bit more coherent, Deceit
a bit more exciting, but they're both essential to anyone with a passing interest in avant-rock.
Posted: Wednesday 5th Jul 2017 3:18 PM