This is the third outing on Slip for Chaines, aka the Manchester-based composer Cee Haines. Their debut, a split release with fellow composer Tom Rose, collapsed fragile vocalisations into waves of shimmering synth and corrugated post-club electronics. The result was two long pieces whose originality and breadth privileged juxtaposition rather than synthesis. A follow-up, ‘OST’, collected five tracks that ranged from clanking bursts of mechanical aggression through stuttering goofiness to deadpan, skittering abstraction. The moments of breathtaking beauty never quite banished the feeling that Haines was on the lookout for something, without ever quite figuring out what that something was.
But it’s all good, because now we have ‘The King’, a record whose scope, ambition and consistency represents a quantum leap from Haines’ first two releases. At times these eight deep cuts resemble late-period Scott Walker in their fearlessness and wide frame of vision – although Walker’s cerebral machismo is (fortunately) absent here. In its place is an awareness of pace, depth and texture that enables Haines to compress several, often opposing mood-states into a single piece. In ‘Down’, for example, Haines moves us effortlessly from the fragile, echoing melodies of the opening into a discordant nightmare churn, before bringing us down, exhausted onto a gritty bed of static and throb, almost before we know what’s hit us. These shifts in mood and perspective are as thrilling as they are deft.
‘The King’ succeeds, I suspect, because Haines has an ability to create structure that doesn’t announce itself as such, but which brings rigour and complexity to what may otherwise slouch into amorphous, textural drift. Not that that there’s anything wrong with a bit of shapelessness. But Haines’ reverberant chiaroscuro gives us little more to chew on.
That doesn’t stop the best of these cuts being somehow ungraspable, and difficult to parse even after several listens. Synths, flutes, double bass, voices and occasion percussion combine to create shifting shapes resemble the mutoid cousins of Autechre’s machine evolutions after being spliced into Graham Lambkin’s quotidian assemblages. Most, like the brilliant ‘Airship’, have the beguiling ability to sound different every time you listen to them, like glazed hyper-objects imbued with heavy, hallucinatory beauty.
Elsewhere – particularly in the sepulchral opening and closing tracks – Miguel Prado’s Nzʉmbe project comes to mind. On ‘For Your Own Good’, the album’s opener, an immense cello-powered grunt prods hissing revenant babbles out of the gloaming in a manner not dissimilar to Prado’s dank mutterings on his ‘Titubeo’ album. (Interestingly both ‘The King’ and ‘Titubeo’ have been described as warped variations on torch song.)
‘Eraserhead’, meanwhile, brings the record to a close in an altogether more cacophonous fashion. A hectic drum marks a carnevalesque clatter as voices holler out like ghosts in the radiator. Grizzly waves of static smother piano figures and giddy cello arco, before stabs of woolly synth add night-bus atmospherics to gently-crooned vocals. It’s as soft as a lullaby for the executioner’s chair, and about as consoling.