LICE ‘WASTELAND: What Ails Our People Is Clear’

“Destroy the cult of the past, the obsession with the ancients, pedantry and academic formalism” reads point one of 1910’s first Manifesto of Futurist Painters. Bold declarations of visionary intent are a distinct feature of the futurist movement, an avant-garde collective of artists and thinkers born in Milan and conceived by poet Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, eschewing social and artistic tradition to forge work that would upheave the very foundations of society as well as shun the archaic aesthetics of old. From the British Vorticists, Dadaists, and Russian Constructivists who followed, the many challenging and unorthodox pieces unleashed on to conservative society were routinely accompanied with manifestos proclaiming the ills of the cultural world and their noble crusade to rid of the obsolete and enter liberated modernity (despite some early aligning with fascism on the Italian part).

In a barren wasteland on the edges of reality, a hapless character known only as Paul discovers that his penis has become sentient, growing teeth and whispering snide remarks at it gnaws through the front of his jeans. Taking the drastic measure of removing the cognisant member, it grows further among the hospital refuse, eventually reaching humanoid shape and imitating the likeness of its previous owner. Like a twisted retelling of Nikolai Gogol’s The Nose were it written by William Burroughs, the ‘imposter’ walks on its testicles in the moonlight to Paul’s house, killing him and assuming his identity, replacing him at his workplace and coming into success before arousing the suspicions of the sinister R.D.C…

Talking genitalia, shape-shifting and shadowy committees are just a taste of the many surreal exercises in satire in Alaister Shuttleworth’s science-fiction short WASTELAND: What Ails Our People Is Clear. Both a journalist and frontman for experimental post-punk act LICE, Shuttleworth has been on a one-man mission to smash complacent music coverage and champion the potent avant-garde s̶c̶e̶n̶e̶ community currently seizing Bristol out of its trip-hop nostalgia. Taking cues from the litany of crusading proclamations of the futurists, Shuttleworth’s music magazine The Bristol Germ and the aforementioned fantastical text are replete with manifestos, with almost revolutionary rhetoric, urging the curious reader to free themselves from the shackles of stagnant artistic consensus and idle, surface participation. Caring not for the arbitrary peripheries of the album format, LICE’s debut LP via their own Settled Law Records encompasses iconoclastic music, puzzling prose, and a bizarre new instrument of their innovation called the Intonarumori.

The whirring clangour of the mysterious machine which opens the first track ‘Conveyer’ establishes the character of the record immediately: dissident and curious. WASTELAND… is an amorphous trip that veers between industrial abrasion and brittle minimalism with total ease, often within the same song. ‘Espontáneo’ weaves in and out of deep, cavernous disquiet akin to the sonic nightmares of Scott Walker’s The Drift, an eerie expanse of flickering vocals and phantom whispers percolate around Shuttleworth’s hushed recounts of time travel given greater introspective wrestle with Silas Dilkes’ exotic guitar picking. Hypnagogic trance grooves on the synth-based ‘Persuader’, a crisp drum machine anchors the dreamy haze that submerges midway in a mist of frenetic percussion and subliminal, numbered motifs, all deep-diving together similar to Radiohead’s ‘Weird Fishes/Arpeggi’. LICE display a true feeling for emotional scope on the haunting ‘Serata’ an intimately epic cut which is probably the most moving song about a robot’s friendship with a spider you’ll ever hear, while LP closer and epilogue ‘Clear’ is pure Lynchian lounge, foggy keyboards and sultry guest vocals from Katy J. Pearson and members of Goat Girl scoring the final collapse of the Wasteland, each line intriguingly sung as stage directions for a play.

For all of LICE’s cultural reference and intellectual rigour, they never let cerebral fancy stand in the way of rocking. Like Howard Devoto’s canny ability to marry philosophical esotericism with direct, unpretentious punk rock, LICE know when to throw a strike of urgent post-punk attack, albeit with proggy leanings. Gareth Johnson’s mean bass rattles along with Bruce Bardsley’s primal drums on the thrillingly raucous ‘R.D.C.’, a volatile pummeler which filters Louis Althusser’s heady marxism in a satisfying blast of SANS style noise. Their industrial inclinations hammer with Einstürzende Neubauten levels of heft on the bruising ‘Pariah’, massive guitar hack and chops while the Intonarumori cranks amid the din, Dilke’s heavy riffing against Shuttleworth’s metallic and acrid vocals beautifully alien and beefy.

“Elevate all attempts at originality, however daring, however violent” reads point three of the Manifesto of Futurist Painters. In their quest to produce work that is vital and radical, LICE have dropped an extraordinary record that successfully combines journalistic endeavour, a dynamic range of aural exploration and honest-to-god rock ‘n’ roll with impeccable harmony. WASTELAND: What Ails Our People Is Clear is an eternally fascinating and electrifying debut that resoundingly honours their crusade against the banal and derivative.

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