Chaines – The King

Chaines - The King, abstract painting that resembles jagged blue mountains with three brown towers.

Admittedly I hear only a tiny fraction of the huge volumes of music being produced these days, but I hear a lot. I’ve never heard anything quite like the music of Chaines. This may or may not be a good thing, depending on your perspective. There are individual elements that can be heard elsewhere, but they are brought together and buzzed in the processor of an aesthetic that to my ears is quite unique: sublime and ridiculous, funny and disturbing, familiar and threatening all at once. New album “The King” features several pieces performed with the London Contemporary Orchestra, in addition to Chaines’ own studio productions.

It’s the vocals that keep coming back to me long after listening to “The King”: from the hissed orders over grating, sliding pitches in opener ‘For Your Own Good’, to the voice articulating a worrying obsession with the eponymous woman of ‘MARY’, to the lounge-operatic singing that breaks down into screams in the closing piece ‘Eraserhead’. But it’s the astonishing vocal performance of ‘Population 5120’ that impresses me the most, its wordless melody shifting from hushed and languid to sharp and piercing (yet still perfectly controlled), covering a full pitch range over a repeating instrumental refrain and a hazy, late-night atmosphere. ‘DOWN’ begins with calm, shimmering guitar, before switching to a minor key and bringing in meandering melodies from an oboe or saxophone (or maybe both?) and pounding off-kilter rhythms. It’s a mysterious and disorienting sound that expresses turmoil without turning it into a theme, or making it the subject of crass representation.

Chaines’ willingness to take relatively ordinary musical tropes and de-familiarise them through unusual juxtapositions, polyrhythms, and generous dollops of noise is perhaps what makes their music so unsettling and yet so compelling — it wouldn’t sound so strange if you hadn’t heard elements of it before. In this sense, the David Lynch tribute that closes “The King” is entirely apt. This is music that some will love and some will hate, and for exactly the same reasons — but in an age of exhausted ideas and recycled nostalgia, how good it is to hear something so strikingly original, provocative, and bold.

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