Philippe Petit and Friends - On Top [Aagoo Records - 2018]This is the fifth album by Philippe Petit and Friends, and their first since 2012s Cordophony. Philippe is the co-founder of Strings of Consciousness and a long time collaborator of Lydia Lunch, he has worked with the likes of Jarboe, Cosey Fanni Tutti, Edward Ka-Spel and a host of others within the electronic music scene. The songs on this album were originally intended for the third in a trilogy of albums by String of Consciousness, however their subsequent split means that they have found their way out on this particular album.
The Hammer and the Compliant Man is the opener and it’s musically quite unusual, built around an incessant almost metronomic beat it is difficult to describe adequately. The track features a variety of different layers of instruments and samples, with some frantic spoken word poetry place over the top from Oxbow’s Eugene Robinson. The poetic nature of the vocals reminds me somewhat of Nick Cave without actually sounding like Nick Cave, if that makes sense. It’s a good start. This is followed by a brief musical interlude, this is a weird mix of saloon bar music/ Hawaiian guitar and creepy atmospheric. Interesting but very short. The next full track is Bakaltag. After an ambient opening the track slowly builds as more samples are built into the mix. This is all punctuated by some fairly strange unearthly sounding vocals from Marja Jantar which become more fraught as the song progresses. The song features some interesting and effective use of trumpet in its early stages and in fact the trumpet returns towards the end to help take things down a notch or two. U&I is a brief spoken word segment, that utilises some strange musical ideas but is very short at a mere two minutes in length. This is followed by the even shorter Interlude II, which reminded me a little of the soundtrack to Mario Bava’s Bay of Blood.
Black Dog is next and is a return to more song based material. This is the first track to feature a significant indie rock guitar track. Again, the vocal poetry reminds me of Nick Cave, although perhaps without Cave’s amazing turn of phrase. This is however not a bad thing; the track is still a fine addition with great lyrics. Charleton Sight is next. Again, this track is quite different from the rest of the album, the vocals are reminiscent of many of the late 60s West Coast psychedelic bands, they have a dreamy quality that works beautifully with the electric harp that is heavily featured on this track. I have seen reviews that mention Scott Walker in connection with this track and they’re certainly not too far from the mark. F.T.C. is up next, and as a pleasant surprise the legendary Lydia Lunch turns up to provide a monologue. The music is sparse and sinister, sort of an industrial take on some of the creepier horror movie scores of the 1970s. Lunch’s monologue is an attack on the political powers that be, she swaggers her way through it like the arresting sonic force she is.
The final track on the album On Top of the Pyramid of the Sun of Teotihuacan is the album’s centrepiece. Heike Aumüller’s emotive vocals are accompanied by a backing track that ebbs and flows creating this sprawling masterpiece of ambient psychedelia. The musical drones peak and drift throughout the tracks length, creating something that ranges from mantra-like krautrock experimentation to dark ambient drones and noisier experimental electronica. This is my favourite track on the album , it works beautifully as a piece of art and flows with great cohesion.
Overall On Top is an interesting and multitextured album that has a little something for everyone. It moves effortlessly between the various different musical styles, but somehow never seems to settle anywhere for long. Despite the collision of styles and the vast amount of stuff going on it works well and I enjoyed the experience a great deal, and I think experience is the perfect word to describe what you undertake when you listen to On Top. The final track is the album’s masterpiece and will probably live on my playlist for quite a long time.Darren Charles