The Psychogeographical Commission - Patient Zero [Acrobiotic Records - 2010]For their second release, The Psychogeographical Commission, an esoterically preoccupied and shamelessly philosophical English pagan electronic and folk duo, have unleashed "Patient Zero", something of an intense and ambitious semi-dystopian narrative concept album, a crystalline astrological tapestry in which the placement and content of every scene has been carefully considered and reconsidered in order to best reflect a distinct moment in the cosmic cycles.
It's an easy album to enjoy straight away. The vocalist, conceptualist and instrumentalist, identified only as 'S.' in the album jacket, has a simply perfect baritone voice for music like this, equal parts Death In June's Douglas Pierce and Coil's Jhonn Balance... and dare I say he has more of a head for melodious, clever songwriting than either? The glittering, mesmerizingly simple droning strums of neofolk are augmented with lush beds of very musical electronic harmony and orchestration, for a vibrant diversity of tone. Sing-song nursery rhyme phrasing applied with graceful restraint, resulting in many catchy and hypnotic verses.
His dense lyrics are marvellous and reveal their clever meanings over repeated listening. In "(Time Sigil)", he speaks of mankind as a whole and makes truly profound utterances: "Throughout this all, the hairless ape struggles to adapt / to the rate of the evolution he carved out for himself / surfing larval seas of tarmac, he dances around the carpark / his tears merge with raindrops, water cycling through man."
'S.' has also got an intense depressive streak, and it's not the momentary 'bad trip' feeling that seemed to whimsically and suddenly overtake the aforementioned hallucinogenically enhanced groups, rather his soul is presenting a fully developed and soberly worded existential objection - a despair ridden narrative ode to the inarguable wrongness of the status quo. Melodramatic, yes, but almost heartbreakingly sincere. "Patient Zero" is the document of a person who cannot help but feel. "It feels like winter but it's not even a cold day... the sky just seems so heavy on the buildings", he muses on "Can You Feel It?". Elsewhere he talks longingly of "breaking the spell of modern life", and of having "opened up to God, but at the mercy of the voices." These are the words of the chronically overwhelmed by the woes of he world.
There are barren, forlorn soundscape soujourns between the folkier songs, equally masterful in construction but not as initially noticeable as the vocal tracks. The opener "Antenocriticus Reawakens" is a rising cinematic orchestral drone, sounding convincingly organic despite evidences of low production budget elsewhere in the production of the album. The multi-movement "EARTH + Alphaville 2 / ARTHE / RTHEA / THEAR / HEART" is one my favorite parts of the journey that is "Patient Zero". First, chorused and minimal bass playing echoes out over a suffocating and claustrophobic ghostly plane, accompanied by monologues from 'S.', then warped hallucinatory female singing rises and falls in arrhythmic swells, sounding quite similar to parts of Coil's soundtrack to Derek Jarman's "The Angelic Conversation".
At times it seems they are retracing Coil's steps, though even their ability to keep pace with relentlessly creative and unstable madmen of that ilk is itself impressive and rare. As this band is likely lacking in equipment, the electronics on "Patient Zero" do not have the vivid, clean hyperreality of Coil's transcendent productions, but they maintain a marvellously three dimensional and deeply surreal spacialization, possibly most evident on "Enochian on the Wall", a track that makes direct homage to Coil's oddly downbeat fractalized acid trance styles.
With both members of Coil dead, it's wonderful to see the legacy of English pagan music is being continued with such convincing style, creativity and intensity. Every moment of music on this album indicates great passion and effort, and "Patient Zero" has become one of my favorite albums of recent years. In my mind, all that 'S.' and The Psychogeographical Commission need do to reach the heights of their influences and predecessors is to continue to create music of this sophistication and depth.Josh Landry