October 3, 2002

Ed's Underground

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Unlike virtually everything else in the history of music, the British art-rock combo This Heat stands alone as impossible to categorize. With a pedigree coming from jazz, punk, post-punk, and world music, it’s no surprise that their music is a fusion of all these things — but it’s also much more than just the sum of its parts. Their crowning achievement, 1981’s Deceit, is one of the craziest rock records you’ll ever hear, veering from creepy mood pieces to abrasive rockers.

The record’s opener “Sleep,” a lovely lullaby with crooned vocals and tribal drumming, provides hints of what’s to come, but it’s much calmer than anything else on the album. “Paper Hats” is more typical of This Heat’s sound; a repetitive rhythm is interrupted by freak-out passages with frenzied screams, followed by complete disintegration into atonal drumming. And that’s just in the first minute and a half — the song changes at least five more times before it ends.

One of the best tracks, “S.P.Q.R.” is an upbeat punk song with shouted vocals over pounding drums and bursts of fiery guitar. Another standout, the angular “A New Kind of Water,” opens with an atmospheric buildup of demonic chants before exploding into an angry, barely controlled groove marked by the accusational, fiercely-delivered lyrics, “our energy is endless it seems/ it’s there when we need it/ we’ve got men on the job,” a litany of the failures of governments.

The entire album defies explanation — the songs are constantly mutating and changing without warning, incorporating so many textures and styles that it quickly becomes impossible to pin down what’s going on. As a whole listening experience, Deceit deliberately creates a disjointed, lunatic feeling, right down to the mid-note stop at the end of “A New Kind of Water” (the last proper song) that transitions into a minute of ambient sound. But the record’s overall incoherence is exactly what makes it so fascinating, and a convincing case for dissolving all genre barriers.

Archived article by Ed Howard