The last time I saw Hardworking Families perform was at an afternoon in-store in the now-sadly-departed Electric Knife record shop in north London. HWF sole practitioner Tom Bench mic’d up a glum floppy disc that had been ripped untimely from its maternal casing and mounted on a deconstructed walkman’s spindle, producing a reductionist symphony of imbalanced grumble and tiny dissonance whose retro whiff was as pleasantly ripe as its cutesy flea circus schtick. The time before that, in a collaboration with Dylan Nyoukis in Brighton, Bench’s mic-ing of up his electric toothbrush and subsequent whirl round his choppers in an admirable display of dental hygiene was just as performatively bracing, even if the scale was a little less micro.
Shorn of these gestural antics, Bench’s recent BA/LS/BN, on Beartown Records, is still worthy of note. Bench always shows a madcap glee in the noise generating properties of everyday objects and the lengths he’ll go to in order to extract these resonances is reminiscent of an eccentric inventor pacing round the lab searching for whichever sonic whirligig catches their fancy. In that respect, BA/LS/BN continues down the path on which Bench set out with Happy Days and those other earlier releases, and these seven chewy cuts prove there’s plenty more tarmac on this road left to travel. This time round I have a particular fondness for Family Piano, in which Mr. B gets his revenge for years of childhood five-finger exercises by giving the titular trusty old Joanna a right going over. Remember that story about Bob Dylan and Martin Carthy chopping up a piano with a Samurai sword for firewood? Imagine that, but with Messrs Tilbury and Tippet after too much Xmas turkey, prepping for an all-star AMM-King Crimson chop-up in slow motion. The LS Miniature series, meanwhile, ladles sploshes of greasy tape smear and wince-worthy noise murk into tart gobbets of monochrome grot, to be taken aurally, preferably several times a day. The chirps and quacks of LS Miniature #3 are particularly great, the assured blurts doing their job with a warped swagger, totally un-bothered by the shortness of their own runtime.
The whole tape is a subtle blast. True, it’s less a careful exploration of sonic elements than a give-everything-a-poke-and-bash-to-see-what-happens, but that doesn’t really matter. In any case, I suspect there will be plenty more-considered works from Hardworking Families in the future. In the meantime, this is Beartown, not Potlach, and ultimately Bench’s idiosyncratic rattles benefit rather nicely from his injection of Puckish energy.