Somewhere in the last five years, south London’s music scene has appointed itself as the unofficial think tank and spokesperson for 21st century gloom. As scholars of the Fat White Family school of ultra-sleaze dirge-punk, bands like Phobophobes, HMLTD, Goat Girl, Peeping Drexels and Shame have all channelled political and social discontent through scum-laden guitar anti-anthems.
The latest band to take to the seedy SE soapbox are The Fabricators. Their debut album ‘New Bad News’ is cut from the same grotty cloth, only with a more open-armed embrace of their influences and less scorn for decent hooks.
As the title suggests, this is a dark record. The songs do, however, occasionally pop their head above the south London sewer system to deliver shimmering moments of beauty; a bit of sparkle in the rust. This is best captured on recent single and album opener ‘Maureen’, a frenzied diatribe against domesticity led by frontman James Matejka’s trademark scathing vocal delivery. Midway through, the track plunges into liquid nitrogen psychedelia, before surging back into howling banshee guitars once again.
Following a string of sweaty, high-octane shows south of the river, last year’s EP ‘Junction to the Jail’ provided some thrilling moments, but ultimately sounded like a band sketching out their masterplan through a slightly bewildered collection of songs. On ‘New Bad News’, rather than narrow their sound, The Fabricators have embraced this sonic turbulence, moulding it into an intentionally schizophrenic record that constantly hammers at its own musical and lyrical equilibrium.
And it’s this schizophrenia, along with the ADHD song structures first formulated on the EP, that defines ‘New Bad News’. ‘GaryBrexit88’s playfully sardonic sole lyric “coming over here, taking our jobs” is spliced in two and bookends an otherwise instrumental track that alternates between angry post-punk filth and an antithetical explosion of euphoria; a minute-long scrap between hope and despair.
Micro garage-rock adventure ‘Bad Fruit’ is another case of a song structure refusing to look over its shoulder. It’s a triptych that begins with unhurried, lo-fi psychedelia, before exploding into unhinged Stooges-esque punk snarl, and finishes with an infectious spiky rock ‘n’ roll riff that underpins an enthralling stream-of-conscious spoken word ramble.
If you squint enough, even the darkest corners of ‘New Bad News’ have an air of levity. Given this arms-length relationship with fear and darkness, it’s as if they have somehow bottled Halloween and converted it into soundwaves. Songs like ‘Half-vermin’ and ‘Stag Nation’ sound like 80s horror movies directed by Mark E. Smith, with a confused millennial cast as the protagonist. Even at their most indifferent, ‘Hymn for Toby’ is at least a gripping journey through what resembles a Hieronymus Bosch painting.
The final two tracks see a shifting down of gears, with ‘Crude Future’ finding The Fabricators in full-scale dystopian mode. Eerie soundscapes haunt sludgy verses, packed with cold-blooded lyrics. As the album nears its summit, tormented arpeggios and lobotomised vocals eventually haemorrhage into a wall of distorted fury, and cries of ‘automation is my saviour’ provide what feels like a lyrical conclusion.
‘New Bad News’ is brought to a stuttering, almost premature close through a sunken croon over morose church organs. ‘Cardinals’ is a funeral march mourning the end of a debut album taken from us too soon. In just shy of 35 minutes, the album meanders in so many different directions. More gloom, more bad news. South London has done it again.
‘New Bad News’ is released on 21st September