Originally slated for release later in the year, Dale Cornish ushered ‘A New Tooth’ into the public domain early to raise funds for some fairly heavy dentistry (a complex root canal). Having been in the chair myself a bit recently, I can relate. Tooth work is grim work, alright. But oh my gosh, ‘A New Tooth’ is a cracker and thus I recommend that you download it and top up the Cornish gnasher fund immediately.
This is experimental electronic music of the finest variety, a shapeshifting mix of skeletal bangers, dense junkyard loops and zonked-out abstraction. Cornish rightly detests the phrase ‘deconstructed club music’ when applied to his sounds, and, although I’d never use it myself (ahem), I can understand how his adept shuffling of key dancefloor tools – drums, handclap, hi-hat – has led uninspired hacks to try and slap a lazy genre tag upon his art.
Need proof? Have a listen to the majestic chop-up of ‘Exigence (for Jack)‘ from last year’s ‘Temporal’. All the pieces are there: stern kickdrum, scowling synth, clattering snare. But, in proper Eric Morecambe style, they’re not (quite) in the right order. Yet it’s still a right moody melter, and when Cornish unveiled something similar at last year’s TUSK festival the groove was well and truly in the heart. One might say the same about ‘California’, his contribution to ‘Decouple ][‘, a recent split with Sim Hutchins: rubbery basslines, 80’s cowbell and, of course, handclaps a-plenty combine for a comely slice of sweaty cosmic funk. There ain’t nothing deconstructed about this, baby. It’s club music, end of. The sounds may come from Cornish’s brain, but they’re aimed at the feet, not the head.
Nevertheless a quick glance over the Cornish discography shows that he’s too wily to throw his lot in completely with the gurn and grind crew. On ‘A New Tooth’, opener ‘Great Vowel Shift’ starts off in pure body music form, its pounding bass drum and syncopated claps a distant cousin of ‘Decouple ][‘, before layers of sampled Cornish vocals and a slathering of canine growls knocks things sideways in a liminal cruise between the experimental and the elemental.
‘A New Tooth’ highlights Cornish’s ability as a canny maker of strange sonic artefacts, his minimalistic aesthetic giving these compositions a distanced, sculptural quality. Repetition is often deployed to make us feel like we’re viewing a weird object from several different angles in succession. Thus the locked-groove piano, stuttering drums and dustpan-and-brush scuff of ‘Driving Me Backwards’ seems to shimmy and twist in the air, as if someone has chopped and screwed the opening bars of John Cale’s ‘Paris 1919’ into a gnarled Möbius strip then 3D-printed the results for display in a posh Mayfair gallery. And ‘Kokkina’, with its earthmover heave and lurking tension, could be straight out of the arctic horror trailer playbook, a camera eye tracing the inexorable approach of freezing horror.
It’s always fun tracing tendencies and habits in artists’ work and there are a couple of callbacks in ‘A New Tooth’ to keep the trainspotters interested. The gassy hiss of ‘Bruxism’ has a whiff of 2017’s ‘Aqual’ about it, ‘Pattern 4’ to be precise, while the spooky jitters of ‘Feldt’ seems to nudge the haunted rave textures of 2015’s ‘Ulex’. This is probably accident rather than design, given that Cornish’s gaze on ‘A New Tooth’ is resolutely forward facing. He’s at his most compelling on the durational mantra of ‘Family Tree Revisions’, where a solitary tabla-style percussion loop progresses with only minimal additions, usually touches of reverb or delay, for nearly quarter of an hour. Despite (or maybe because of) the steadfast refusal to create any kind of arc or journey for this hollow, metallic clonk, ‘Family Tree Revisions’ is startlingly hypnotic, its sluggish grace capturing attention like the slow progress of a defunct satellite in the sky, falling gradually through a low-earth orbit towards its demise, lost and smashed in the middle of a plastic ocean.