Released on the exemplary experimental label Baba Vanga – which may be based either in the Czech Republic or Hungary, depending on which online resource you consult – Kokum’s Impressions of Environment fashions tense, oppressive soundscapes that interiorise the brittle clangs and concrete roars of industrial music, creating a claustrophobic sound world that is not so much the sound of collapsing buildings as the soundtrack to a crumbling mind. The smash and grab of Einstürzende Neubauten is the lodestar, and there’s plenty of the explosive aggression that characterised Blixa and the gang’s squat-punk musique concrete on offer here. Dance Pow Wow’s pulsing demolition waltz summons up visions of wrecking balls thrashing through a slum to a disco beat and Good Neighbourhood’s combination of damaged scaffolding clang and warped, phasing electronics makes Thomas Bangalter’s soundtrack to Gaspar Noe’s Irreversible sound like Build Me Up Buttercup.
Yet for Neubauten there was always a glimmer – sometimes well subsumed, admittedly– of hope in the harsh violence of those early releases. Existing in the gaps and spaces of Berlin’s wrecked urban spaces, their primal yowls represented possible new ways of living and making art – as communal and utopian as it was cathartic and dissonant. But life has changed since then, and you’d be hard-pressed to find any such optimism in Impressions of Environment, however deep you dig. On tracks such as Entrenched Habit, with its atonal, seesawing synths and nagging guitar-like cries, Kokum seems to be casting a withering gaze on the idea of progress, and finds it wanting. After all, development and its attendant gentrification destroys as much as it creates, colonising public and personal space in the relentless forward march of capital. Technology encroaches upon the personal despite our best efforts. Using a combination of electronic, tapes and household implements corralled into sound-making duties – cutlery, cups and glass, even a table leg, Kokum conjures up visions of lives atomised and enervated, in which the primal howls and cement mixed rumbles have had their cathartic power hollowed out, transformed into rituals of pure anguish, vomiting disgust into the void. Thus the churning low end and looming synth chords of Common Run of Mankind are accompanied by a monologue that seems calculated to send all but the hardiest listeners running to their Coldplay records for consolation, such is its dead-eyed blankness.
That Impressions of Environment is not always an entirely unpleasant listen is credit to Kokum’s skill as an arranger, layering enough sonic detail into these pieces to maintain interest but without them overstaying their welcome. T’chep-ah Ashkh – great, Cthulhu-esque title, btw – shifts from heavy, fuzz-phased chords to a techno-like syncopated screwdriver rattle and scuzz without deviating from its daemonic ritual vibe, and there’s lovely, percussive groove running through the album, from opener The Prelude onwards. So, maybe, there is light at the end of the tunnel after all, albeit a very pale light after a very long and very, very dark tunnel. But it’s the people who listen to happy music all the time that you should worry about, right?