album review and interview
FauxChisels: Education or Catastrophe
A near-perfect conjunctive effort to experience organisation in the chaotic, to detect equilibrium in the cataclysmic…and survive. Louder Than War’s Ryan Walker interviews vocalist and guitarist Paul Broome to investigate the loosely labelled ‘concept album’ for the era of agitation: Education or Catastrophe entwined with the same twisted smile.
”Human history becomes more and more a race between education and catastrophe’’ – Herbert George Wells.
With each passing bar, the next one more together, tight, and turbulent than the last, this is a piece of work to actively encourage us to not just make ‘any old’ choice. Because ‘any old’ just won’t do anymore will it?
Will it fuck.
‘Any old’ costs lives. This is an album to inspire and attempt to awaken. To encourage us all hoping to make generally better, educated choices. To beseech us as human beings to question our own decisions and the standards of morality they appear to be performed in the virtuous name of.
It sounds like a lot of work.
And it is.
But it’s worth every second of the 40 minutes or so it takes to get from education to catastrophe. 40 minutes to swim through, stand on, and survive the inevitable unsettling of some deathly nest. The psychotic unlocking of the awkward knot, freeing us from being the bloody spot, so often torn between rock and hard place. Between fear and hope with little old us, humankind, smack bang in the middle, the masses attached to an intravenous catheter.
The rock and the hard place of each experience like some internal battle between Athens and Sparta. A sign of the bludgeoning bipolarity of our times. Such carnivorous and capricious drama on scales we feel rather than see. A gradual erasure of decency. A grandiose erosion of hope. The schizophrenic economic concepts. Humankind as a failed experiment…at best anyways.
An interview with Paul Broome discloses some of the tales behind this concept of Education or Catastrophe.
Keyword being: ‘or’.
Education or Catastrophe.
Is the notion of something being educational, or catastrophic, a fairly accurate summary of the album’s content? A symbolic summary of our own times caught between them both?
Turns out it’s both of those. As the group’s songwriting interlocutor informs me:
”It’s about making the choice to improve yourself. Ask questions. Question your own decisions. Make better-educated choices. It’s a pretty loose concept album about this guy who starts out as this ‘Johnny Big Bollocks’ kind of character, then lockdown happens and everything he thought he knew gets trashed – no income, no friends, nobody to fan his ego”.
We all know the type of life Broome is referring to.
”He has a choice, keep on going the same way, or look at what he’s done wrong, the privilege he’s taken for granted, and choose to take a different journey. I think I’m hoping beyond hope that when things do start getting back to ‘normal’ – that it’s not the same fucked up ‘normal’ that we had before. Especially when it comes to the music industry, and the kinds of soulless ghouls who use their positions of power to exploit people, that seem to be prevalent on both a local and a global basis”.
Get Over Yrself is a rotating carousel of manic, menacing instrumentation. A musically muscular experiment that never sits still for too long. Kicking off the album with an unstoppable stampede of arty, post-hardcore dynamics as able to be found in the SST or Discord archives.
But this is more post than punk.
More rock than stick.
We think about the former.
We swallow what we feel with the other until it reaches the depths of our stomach with one pulsating shot of white light.
And with every tumultuous rumble erupting with fierce life at every available turn, the album quickly cascades through the concrete encasements of the day like a pneumatic drill ripping into the naked streets. That arresting, agitated hexagonal edge. The proto-punk, robot-rock grooves. Sharpened to a finer, formidable point with every roadkill-on-the kerbside dance of freakish, mangled-carcass guitar attacks.
Further angst-ravaged ambushes and ambitious abruptions ensue with the slow plunge into puss-and-sulfur swimming pool grooves of Badges and Ideals. A bedsit of amphetamine teenagers dig into their own skin surrounded by a forever thickening, opaque wilderness.
Paul Broonme’s guttural guitars, colossal and unapologetic, punch through with wild, authoritative delivery. Writhing in a marvelous stench-nest of feedback that incinerates the naked flesh and lashes it from the bone. Intricately laced-up bodies of beautifully loose, but brutalised bass guitar built by Mike MacNamara are picked and plucked high up the neck. A forcefully hypnotic, kerosene groove. They growl and prowl around hazardous, untamed guitars, fidgety and fighting for life when tied to an old wooden chair.
FauxChisels was started by Broome and his wife Heather, in 2014 ”because I’d spent a decade not playing music, and just taking photos of other bands, over time I got to know the local bands and they encouraged me to start playing again”.
Despite members coming and going, including additional percussive assistance provided by a drum machine, the current line-up has been together since 2019.
”Having a toddler and having both parents being in the same band just wasn’t working, so Mike eventually took over from Heather. I knew Dicky from a local noise rock band called The Double Happy. I met Mike when he was playing in a folk band who I took some photos for – the three of us later did a charity gig (when our producer Jimm Zorn’s studio burnt down – where we recorded the first album) as part of a Fugazi covers band, so I knew he was talented”.
Despite the possible hindrances of the pandemic, the band found a means of making sure the album was completed correctly. ”If anything there has been fewer distractions over the last year. The most difficult thing has turned out to be getting the vinyl pressed. When the label first starting planning the release there was a 3 month lead time on vinyl, that had jumped to 9 months by the time the order was placed. So it will be a while before we see the records, but it will be worth the wait.”
LTW: Did you find it difficult to construct the album given all that’s been going on?
PB: Not really. In terms of working up the demos and then planning the track order (and which tracks to leave) off – that all worked pretty well over the internet. Likewise with the artwork. I wanted a really coherent theme with the art for the album, and everything associated with it, so I put it all in the hands of a graphic designer friend of mine (Adam Kelly-Williams) – and that came together really quickly too. It was his idea to stick Whitby Abbey on the front, he’s a fellow Yorkshireman, but it made sense – as I’d already envisaged the album ending with the sound of seagulls.
Edge Fund establishes the general tone of the album with fantastic aplomb, amplitude, and intense execution. Those by-now-familiar licks of humiliated, indelible guitar melodies chewing on lumps of bloody meat with rows of silver-stained blades are utterly captivating. Untreated Albini vocals howl into the microphone’s nose. Bass and drums contused together at the hips, yet briefly burst and become unstuck in order to occupy their own essential, odd, predatory space.
A fine way to demonstrate the abilities; the talented abilities, of each tenacious player at the peak of their powers thrown in amongst the whole. Two instruments share a knife to attack the other confirming FauxChisels to be a triangle of immense precision and poignancy from all corners.
Chunks of crunchy chords bombast back and forth, blast in and out like a fierce dance of paraffin blowtorches about to kiss endless sheets of metal. Deranged and untamed, a mighty, rampant march of stabbing flags into the eyes of their own empires of rage, clever clicks of catchiness shared by each instrument in the room, and how their unholy, atonal despondency.
Sadomasochists in straightjackets suck on their own shoulders on Names and Numbers. Where P Broome becomes D Boon. Meat Puppets or Melvins fronted by Mark E Smith. Part-Colin Newman, part-Ian Mackaye. Post-apocalyptic postcards. Short and snappy and to the point. Never relenting or growing tired of the ever-expanding tracks ahead – it persists in pulling us through the floor…only to toss us back up again.
Contused and bruised interactions exchanged between thrusts of chugging guitars, fists lit with nails of light, and brilliantly built limbs of bulletproof bass grooves, all unlocked and rocking, slashing and stabbing, to a time only they can sanely count in without their brains completely evaporating in conflagrations of feedback and flashes of unremitting voltage.
Broome informs me of the album’s completion as being a combination of perfectionism and pandemic-related occurrences.
But it put the band to work. And didn’t stifle their creative output. Merely threw fuel under their feet and watched the sparks fly from under them…a desire to create a perfect fire.
”But there was a big slice of perfectionism on the side of our pal Jimm who recorded and mixed the album. We did the demos then had to waited 6 months or so to get into a studio. Spent 3 days in the studio doing all the recording, then Jimm spent the next seven months mixing it. I’m still not sure he’s fully recovered to be honest!”
I’m interested in how the band succeeded in conceiving the album during lockdown and suchlike. The writing process although a well-trod topic for most bands is something I’m inspired by and enjoy assimilating ideas of how others keep sane, and musically invigorated, under the sticky, steel umbrellas of another day.
”For this album, I would write a very loose guitar part, stick it down with a click track and send it to Mike – who would add a bassline that sent it in a totally unexpected direction. Then we’d send those parts to Dicky who would add drums. Vocals come last, mostly – fitting a rhythm between everything else. And lyrics even after that sometimes…”
Heavy in a different way, Family Friendly drones on and on and on. At long last a moment to compose and console ourselves after being submerged for so long below a sea of unshakable, leaden weight. A slow-motion drawing of the blood; a digging of the hole, to bury whatever we see fit to throw into its monstrously dark mouth. Like men in the coalmine; it goes down clean, comes up anything but. It’s a woozy, alchemical lullaby. Spellbound in a space-dazed, spiky neo-psyche stupor. Whereby during a lobotomy one too many connections have been severed in the brain’s prefrontal cortex.
It quickly bleeds into All The Friends You Have Left (Have Left), a stealthy, demented demonstration of, not just Dicky Henderson’s ability behind the kit; but the fight and bite and functional, fundamental elements which pump throughout the veins of the group. The major and the minor, the loud and the quiet, the hard and the soft, the downer and the upper.
The senses are shocked alive and almost severed with the quick heat of elation. Senses we once found reliable and familiar, sedated all this time, now stimulated and turning like worms in the present moment.
The song stops, and days later, the brain is found as but a fried microchip, the withered remains of some charred leaf, so much daydream reduced to such throwaway data, sad how such enriched vision can be so abruptly ground down and worn out and reduced to a pitiful puzzle piece in the centre of one’s skull full of dumb things with a subtle push of the button.
Relentlessly clever and deceivingly simple combinations of guitar, bass, and drums; plus quick whips of lyrical spits and neurotic, crooning poeticisms of the Broome’s vocal talents, confirm it to be a true gem of a tune sweltering in its own tiny, tin cell.
LTW: Lyrically you mentioned Ballard and Burroughs and Wilson (love the Occult book)…don’t you find their prophecies have come true? And do you find it easy to write lyrics…where does the inspiration come from to jot things down?
Far too true. Except, some days I struggle to see the beauty that they – especially Ballard – still seemed to extract from the dystopian. I just read Nova Express, and some of the stuff that Burroughs put in there, it was totally like he foresaw the internet, the ‘war on truth’, and the moral decline that surrounds us. They probably had time-traveling minds. Or maybe everything really is just cyclical? Occasionally it’ll be a coherent piece of prose – like ‘Constant Ghost’ – but usually, I’ll have an idea of what I want the song to be about, and I’ll find interesting things I’ve already written that fit the theme then crowbar them together.
Constant Ghost fizzes with detail and exemplifies Broome’s slew of literary influences that inject an illustrative lyrical edge into the album. A racket traveling throughout the vast intestinal tracks as spaces occupied by each carnivorous instrument, cleverly intermingle and their lines overlap splendidly.
From Beckett and Burroughs but ”was reading a lot of HG Wells over the last year, which was where I found the album title. Political science fiction. Philosophical stuff. Colin Wilson. John Fowles”.
Musically too, a real feast for the ears to lean against. But although the group, and Broome in particular here, take influence from an array of diverse artists, telling me ”I don’t necessarily write the songs they would write, but I keep coming back to them” – there is that graphic, abject, darkly-humorous and satirically-serrated edge that threads itself throughout each line. Spleens split at the seams. Prose probing the worst of what we wake up to and forcing us to face it in the fevers of the disquieting twilight.
Every lingering syllable and acidic line lacing itself above the surface of these hysterical, postmodern tragicomedies. Honest observations that appear decorated in that they look so cruel, and sound so bastardized.
But honesty will sodomise the ignorant with its honesty and there is no lid to hide under. Just the laughing camera crowds and dastardly plans of the didactic app-slags, who would cut your throat one thousand times over for a further inch of the divine column. All observing you, the common, working, dumbass, gumball specimen; split below needles of the stare of the sun and the baking tray you were served on.
So many adventurous, imaginative anecdotes and clever, connected yet incompatible cut-ups of conversations scrawled down and recited and now, able to be experienced as the daily grime of the modern world which grinds fingers to knuckle and knuckle to wrist, creates a concave in its own fucking forehead.
The deranged diarist handing his postscript over to Mark Stewart who reads each line aloud:
”Darkness filled the room like water fills the bath. Dimly aware of what was close by: whispering duos, snorting soloists, scratching rodents”.
All The Friends…pounces with a similar lyrical spit. Slow, bohemian flaneurs traveling through the bowels of Birmingham:
”We walked through the sleeping city/blood-blue moon over our heads/through the deserted streets, and the underpass, to the multistory where you left your car/drove for hours through the suburbs where you never once stopped talking/a pointless anecdote for almost everything that we passed’.
Drums pummel through every obstacle in sight. Played as barrels of dense, toxic waste. Bombastic tantrums of infantile elephants in suits of bronze armour rock forth with red eyes. Psychotic intonations of voice emerge from the void, perfectly putting to the test Broome’s lyrical abilities. Often found ‘‘constantly writing things down on my phone – usually just song titles or short sentences – they may not make sense when I write them down, just words that I like, but when I come to write actual lyrics I’ll scroll through this endless list of ideas and cut snippets together until they make some kind of sense”.
Heretic guitar melodies build staircases that bass guitars climb. Distinct yet they leap and lunge all intertwined. Working towards creating a brilliantly built vessel of immense tonnage. They give each other black eyes as they stumble through the sludge puddles. Each p promiscuous groove, more interconnected and consuming than the last.
Pencil Case and Skunk Estate strut and swagger with impressive, interconnected attack. The former falling about with flailing limbs and a stance of contorted, confrontational menace. Rapid ricochets of drums ignore the laws of science by existing uninterested and unpinned to planet earth. They fly and escape the grips of gravity. Shadows stretched to the point of snapping with every rollicking backflip and summersault. Bass guitars refuse to be glued to one spot for too long.
The latter buzzes and explodes with ever-catchy spasms of mangled carcass guitars, endlessly innovative like the neck of the fucking thing has been replaced by a cobra and Broome lives to charm its erratic, restless nature. With every anarchic stroke, a slice of skin falls to his feet. Dramatic sparks of machinery and shredded metal melodies attack from all angles, the voice approaching like an ominous, foreboding, therianthropic groan where chords are treated like old cars and crushed into cubes of godless doom.
LTW: What do you think of the current state of rock music or pop or indie? Is it hard for a band now to get through? Is getting through even a gold bar to reach for with any degree of logic or sanity?
PB: I think there’s a lot of great music coming out at the moment, and a lot of variety. A lot of quality British Jazz, all the kind of freak-folk stuff, loads of wonderfully noisy bands, and some really good off-kilter alternative pop stuff. There’s plenty of rubbish too, but it was always so. I help with putting some gigs and events on in Birmingham – and there’s a lot of grassroots talent out there. Of course, the number of venues available to play at is constantly reducing – which is worrying.
And that’s just it. A logical, surely saner way of looking at the climate of contemporary music as one always, absolutely, containing plenty of utter shit, but also reaching a conclusion within oneself that that’s always been the case, and things are hardly likely to change.
So what of this noise?
Paul confirms the difficulties of band’s getting to taste the plethora of success they deserve: ‘‘I guess it is really hard for a band to get attention through now, there’s just so much stuff out there – plus, people have got used to getting it for free too, which also doesn’t make it easy when you’re trying to cover your costs. Fortunately, myself and the others in the band are of an age now where we know this is never going to be our living – it will never pay our bills”.
Yet what appears to be a pessimistic view, is actually one shimmering with a distinctly honest spirit. One uninterested to be vitiated by the venomous requirements of age acutely attuned, and inaccurately so, to this notion that everything ought to be free.
Because the world, like Paul and his fellow bandmates in FauxChisels, are of a certain age where looking back is a way of getting left behind. Whereas looking forward and riding with the rising tides of each moment, increasingly toughened by what technology teaches us to be a cause worth exploiting, a never-ending pocket novelty, a subscription service without end.
Paul believes ”those dreams are long gone. Even Mark Arm has a ‘day job’. I think approaching it like that helps with the sanity side”.
And I’d rather have my sanity, than a slice of the cake according to how some cunts cut it.
Top Deck Princess bathes in a bath of nuts and bolts, spanners, and screwdrivers. A fist of heat meditating on the worth of, and using clever lyrical bridges which are quickly built between ”top-deck princess/high-top priestess/not her business/full of pretense”. Wonderfully ravaged with bite and malice and angst, surging forth with street-punk and street-smart, empirical nastiness.
Tumbling bundles of bass baying for the blood of the other instruments involved. Sizzling below the stained-glass skyline where saints are skinned by their own sins. Deceitfully simplistic sprays of energy erupt from the core. Disorderly chords empty cartridges of carnage into the sky, catalysing a maddening battalion of magic and savage mathematics, plundering with every riotous, bestial grunt. Feral melodies sink their teeth into the sides of one’s neck. Once attached, unable to remove the pierced, suctioning prongs.
With the possibility of live gigs looming on the horizon, the group is eager to see how these songs will carry live. ”We’re playing The Night Owl in Birmingham on 1st October with our good friends’ Frauds. Hopefully, we can do a bit of a tour later in the year. There’s a lot of places we haven’t got around to playing yet”.
Live sets aside, the predominant goal for the group now is ”just to have as many people hear the music as possible – be able to play gigs in different towns around the country, sell enough records to make it viable to record the next one. … I mean, I don’t think the word ‘viable’ should ever be used when it comes to music – and we’d never write music specifically to be that”.
This is viable in a sense of being a revision of Plato’s Republic fit for a hardcore punk audience, distributed here in the form of a Xeroxed zine with a fabulous soundtrack to such a dialogue.
Or if not viable, then at least valuable in that this body of work is a fluid issuing of ideas about the newly refurbed industrial furniture and foreboding groans of a climax aching towards an end that never arrives nor tired of disappointment with a destructive undercurrent.
A year zero prayed for, but tomorrow still shuffles itself into action and perches upon the doorstep along with the milk and the pigeon shit before the whole roll of film is loaded again and projected unto a horizon still smoldering.
We can hear the music without listening to the album, but it helps to have some kind of sound to accompany the sceneries within our own heads. That of freshly moulded bricks and monolithic plinths, oddities of matter slotting into each other. Every ornamental highly-tied cloud cluelessly cruising over the decadent landscapes of grey and gold. Every high-rising spiral erected over everything else to the extent it blocks out the sun and all shadows naturally cast are annihilated overnight.
The band is in a position, uniquely or enviably perhaps, but admirably most definitely, to ”always do exactly what we want to. But at the end of the day music is nothing until it enters somebody else’s ears. So that’s what we’re looking for, new pairs of ears to fill”.
Upon listening, and re-listening to this album, my ears are so full my eyes explode. Nice one.
P Broome, M McNamara, D Henderson.
Lyrics by P Broome.
Ryan Walker is from Bolton. He writes for Louder Than War. His online archive can be found here.