Dale Cornish gives us everything we need. His sparse, angular constructions are each perfect expressions of a single idea, distilled to its essence and delivered with unfussy efficiency. Check out the slowly-morphing synth motif that makes up the opening track on last year’s Ulex, assembled from gleaming fragments that morph into a burnished and tensile structure, like some vast space station in slow orbit far above the Earth. Or the spluttering pops of Xeric Pattern 3, its millions of tiny, springy explosions seemingly ignited by a hiccupping kickdrum into a particulate frenzy. In his three excellent albums for Entr’acte, Glacial (2012), Xeric (2013) and Ulex (2015), the sonic vocabulary of dance music – sibilant hi-hat, tough and silky kick drums, syncopated synth bursts – is configured into strange and compelling shapes, the repetition beloved of the dancefloor replaced by an interest in patterns, resulting in a skewed, rhythmic minimalism. Listening to these albums is like observing the growth of a strange, alien coral, its gradual development as imperceptible as it is undeniable.
If Cut Sleeve, released in a fetching pink cassette by Halcyon Veil, fleshes out that skeletal aesthetic somewhat, the rigour and asymmetry of its six tracks are unmistakable proof that it is headed in the same direction. True, the incessant handclaps and two-note synth motif of Cut have the air of a deep house banger after a going over by a Japanese sushi master, expertly filleted so that only the tough, delicate bones remain. And Infix’s freezing post-dubstep lurch is given added melodrama by its mutant steel-drum yowls. But this is an abstract, enigmatic beast, its unconventional shifts and refusal to follow well-worn paths subverting any attempts to get into the groove. That subversion persists, too, in the conjurations of LGBT history that are spliced into Cut Sleeve’s DNA, the traces only occasionally surfacing, in track titles such as Vauxhall, like some aural Polari. It’s most explicit in Status 2016, in which a synthesized voice repeats: “In 2016 it is illegal to be gay in approximately 75 nations and regions around the world” over a bed of grating tones. Here, less is certainly more, the lack of explicit outrage emphasizing the bare facts of this monumental, ongoing injustice.
Cornish’s work with Phil Julian allows him to move away from the occasionally sombre tones of his solo releases into noisier, more sarcastic territory. Although the pair create their dystopian soundscapes collaboratively, their set-up echoes the classic synth-duo mode of limelight-hungry front person and impassive synth wrangler, Cornish and Julian gleefully channelling the spirits of Suicide, Soft Cell and even the Pet Shop Boys, before tearing apart these ectoplasmic presences and flinging the slimy gobbets all over the walls. On releases like 2014’s Two Warhol’s Worth and last year’s Laughing Out, Cornish’s vocals range from uttering venomous fragments of concrete poetry to the desolate moans of a wedding singer on barbiturates, as Julian triggers chunky electronic burbles and spurts of digital scuzz from his laptop.
As its title suggests, this recording documents a performance from March, in which our heroes showed headliners Genesis P-Orridge and Aaron Dilloway a jolly good time. The Two Ronnies, Albrecht Dürer’s portrait of Emperor Maximilian I and Pete Burns are just some of the topics covered by Cornish’s grumpy mithering, a surrealist flow whose nonchalant delivery belies the spot-welded care of its construction. The electronics are just as carefully fucked, dense layers of crunch and squelch that limp around like a slow-motion YouTube clip of a nightclub falling down the stairs. “We were recently called Coil for Trump age – isn’t that fucking horrible and amazing?” muses Cornish early on, which is a pretty good description of the jaded disenchantment that the duo evokes with this performance, in which punkish disgust at the ongoing catastrophe of contemporary history has been battered into abrasive, atonal nihilism. With this lot, language isn’t so much a virus as a dose of the galloping trots, in which the urge for expulsion overrides all other directives. Most of the tracks here are new, including the rather bracing Part Human, which culminates in multiple deployments of what is colloquially termed the C-bomb, the impact of which can be gauged by the rather cautious audience response. The set ends with an up-tempo regurgitation of Laughing Out, Julian forcing apocalyptic bass farts from his laptop to accompany Cornish’s increasingly unhinged raps, everything piling up in a trainwreck of belligerent misanthropy. Strongly recommended for jaundiced, corrosive fun.