Almost three years seems a long time to wait in between records, but ‘Locus’ is the first release from Great Ytene since their eponymous six-track EP in early 2014. They have an excuse — their story is that in 2015 they lost an entire album’s worth of tracks in an IT “worm hole”. This is fitting for a group that highlight “deconstruction and reassembly” as their preferred working method. They started from scratch, dismantling and rebuilding nine tracks for ‘Locus’. The result is even more unrelenting than their earlier work, with each track building layers of noise, voice and guitar on extreme repetition of a motif. Many songs collapse at the end as bass (Jorge Stride), drums (Lewis Baker) and vocals (Leon Diaper) withdraw to leave guitar effects (Tom Baker and Diaper).
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But whereas a few years ago they could be accused of reviving shoegaze’s 1990s fascination with 60s psychedelia, such as The Byrds or Syd Barrett’s Pink Floyd, they now take a direction closer to post-punk — some of ‘Locus’ is reminiscent of contemporary Wire, especially things like the old art-punk rockers’ track ‘Harpooned’ from their 2015 album ‘Wire’, although admittedly Great Ytene tracks are not as well honed and rounded as recent offerings from Colin Newman and Graham Lewis. And, unlike Wire, Great Ytene hardly make any nods to most pop norms and traditions, such as catchy choruses, tunes or riffs.
The only concession to pop conventions on the opener ‘Mono Aware’ is that at one point the singing stops for an instrumental break as if at the end of a verse, but these are not verse-chorus, middle eight, verse-chorus songs. They are linear, multi-layered, dark and driving. ‘Mono Aware’ tells us “it’s lost in transmission” and stutters to an end soon after a climax in which the same short phrase (“it’s lost”) is repeated 32 times on vocals, while drums and bass are similarly stuck on repeat, and the guitars create a wash of noise.
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‘George Street’ is punchy and fast, collapsing into broken, half-formed sounds. ‘Cruel Desires’ sounds like a broken clock, with distorted clanging and twisted guitar lines accompanying lyrics that appear to be despairing (“no pleasure can be seen”/“so sad, so sad”). Piercing guitar notes punctuate ‘Cruel Desires’ in a way pioneered by early post-punk groups from northwest England and Scotland. The title track is more accessible, as a bass hook invites scratchy guitars and intriguing lyrics. The words on this album explore the idea of a locus in time, but it takes an effort to hear them as they echo through the dense, drone-like noise, despite the countless repetition of key phrases.
‘Wanness’ is fast and furious once it gets going, returning sporadically to a rigid drum roll pattern and indulging a looping, hypnotically repetitive section. ‘Electro Pulses’ starts like many of the tracks end — sweeping waves of noise — picks its measured and twisted way through a repeated bass sequence, half chanted vocals and occasionally screeching guitar, and mutates into an ending led by a math-rock-ish guitar workout.
‘Fixed Victim’ features a similarly mathematically minded, picked-out guitar scale, iterated again and again until disintegration arrives in the form of washed out vocals and guitar loops for over 40 seconds that lead straight into ‘Physical Warmth’, in which the guitar interplay is typically reluctant to go anywhere near simple rhythmic chords. ‘Appetite’ ends the album in a slightly more upbeat frame of mind, as the vocals almost break into a tune and the guitar nearly starts to riff. “Oh why” the vocals repeat, and repeat, until an increasingly loud wash of voices and guitars plays out to a vigorous bass/drum drill, before the track ends on carefully built feedback and noise.
’Locus’ is deliberately wrought. Great Ytene are carving themselves a space of thoughtful and considered guitar-based track-construction, far from the indie rock of rhythm guitars, stadium-ready anthems and post-pop tunes.
‘Locus’ is released on 17 February 2017 via Faux Discx