It’s not just the dwindling economic opportunity, climate inaction and the greatest disparity of wealth in human history which makes late-stage capitalism the unrelenting black hole of hope it most definitely is. It’s the fucking mediocrity man. The inexorable descent into a hellscape of focus-grouped music and recycled film franchises wrung of every shred of creative potential and risk by the necrotic death grip of market research. Wading through a toxic miasma of a town infested with property developers, you pass the 17th Tesco Metro before enduring another pointless meeting in a pointless job in a boardroom of office middle-manager types so fucking vanilla and tepid you have an out of body experience, your soul screaming at you with condemnation: “THERE HAS TO BE A WAY OUT!!!” The only way out appears to be the one open window of the fifth floor you’re on. Just one jump, and it’s over…
“We live in a world where there is more and more information and less and less meaning,” wrote Jean Baudrillard in his seminal Simulacra and Simulation. The nagging feeling that culture and society is dictated by capital instead of ideas is a recurring theme in the string of releases by I Know I’m An Alien. An art-punk outfit from London with a keen socialist rigour in their synthpunk mischief, the dadaist trio have been taking a flamethrower to the bloated vacuum of neoliberalism with a fizzy mix of Residents surrealism and Devo subversion while sporting oversized, paper collage masks. Changing pace from their prior avant-pop offerings, new record Chair of Cola introduces Lumpy Gravy style tape collage experimentation to explore the modern day alienation of the overworked and underpaid.
Chair of Cola is the aural noise that lurks in the psyche of every confused millennial. A congealed slop of shit Saturday morning cartoons, the same fucking Boston song aggressively sold to you by a boring rock ‘heritage industry’, PlayStation start-up jingles, daytime commercial slime, smartphone interruptions, warbling 90s Disney VHS’s cynically vying for your nostalgia. A cudgel of media noise breaking your face and brutally reminding you that you ain’t no generation, you’re a target demographic. Is it any wonder that the opening track is called ‘Breathing Challenge’, cos we’re fucking suffocating.
“No apologies to the artists whose songs we ruined!” the band exclaim gleefully on their Instagram. Their puckish sense of fun keeps the album from being a draining endurance for the listener. Sudden goofy moments, like the Nokia Gran Vals tune chiming in or the sped-up desecration of Dolly Parten’s Jolene, tells you that their elongated, alien tongue is firmly in the cheek. The occasional detour into eerie lo-fi makes intriguing diversions from the otherwise busy record. ‘Wedding of the Anything’ is a weathered and muffled chiller of white noise and analogue tape decay, and the finale ‘Let’s Make a Living in Music!’ is the last word on biting self-deprecation: a track consisting of nearly two minutes of laughter. With the arts sector and creative industries facing great uncertainty in the face of Covid-19, the guffawing mirth stings with acidity.
When Alan Clarke began to tackle the issue of paramilitary violence in Northern Ireland for his 1989 BBC short Elephant, he decided that instead of some trite, moralistic posturing or po-faced lecture on the enormity of the subject, he instead simply showed the violence, nothing more, nothing less, appealing to the gut and our visceral senses over intellectual pondering. Chair of Cola similarly presents to us a soundtrack to the troubled navigation of a world geared by untrammelled free-market dogma and shows us exactly how it is: mad, unrelenting, and seemingly impervious.