Consumer Electronics - Dollhouse Songs
Harbinger Sound. HS152. LP
The last time I saw Phillip Best he was drooling spit on to his sweaty man paps. This larger than life character was winding up an audience of Americans who, you couldn’t help feel, had little idea as to what exactly was going on. Soon to jettison his leather jacket and shirt, but keeping on his shades, Best did what he does best and antagonized his audience with lengthy ‘come and have a go if you think you’re hard enough’ gestures as a snarling, bent almost double, Dominik Fernow delivered contorted noises via laptop. I didn’t get every word of his delivery but the word ‘cunt’ could be heard approximately every third word, most of them aimed at the audience who he seemed to be treating with total disrespect. Being called a cunt by a beer bellied wank spanner may not be everybody's idea of a good night out but you’d be surprised at how many people are prepared to have their hearing damaged by 40 continuous minutes by Consumer Electronics noise. Not that I’m that a big fan I must admit. I much preferred Best in his earlier CE forays when he was still employed as part of Whitehouse, when he used to keep his shirt on [double cuffed too] reading his lyrics from a huge book that he waved in front of his ever sweating face.
All this aggression is part of the show of course. Off stage Best is head of Philosophy at Texas University. He’s written dissertations on the noise scene in Montenegro, chaired debates with Richard Dawkins and has a personal library that contains three miles of shelving. None of that is true but you kind of get the feeling that it could be. His favourite word is ‘cunt’ and his favourite writer is Thomas Pynchon. That much may be true. He’s an intelligent man and all that drooling on to his tits is there to wind you up. On record he’s all failed social systems, broken lives and suicidal teenage girls. And noise of course.
Unlike the last two more recent-ish CE albums I’ve heard: ‘Nobody’s Ugly’, two sides of noise drone and ‘Estuary English’, 23 minutes worth of rabid delivery spread over two sides of vinyl, Dollhouse Songs feels more like a complete album. Perhaps the best CE album to date that I’ve heard. Maybe its the arrival of Russell Haswell on electronics or Sarah Froelich on screaming or the Trevor Brown sleeve art but somehow this feels like the one to wave at your mates and go ‘see, it can be done’, noise turns into art with lyrics that you can sing along to. Well almost.
His ranting, rabid, spittle flecked delivery is at one with the whatever hideous noises are being created. If you told me Best records these things rolling around the floor of a padded cell with a hypo sticking out of his arse I wouldn’t be in the least bit surprised. What does come as a surprise is that the best track on here is also the quietest. ‘Colour Climax’, [infamous Danish porn empire in case you didn’t know], finds Best quietly speaking over but the lightest of noise flotsam, his words somehow appearing all the more menacing than when in full tilt, and at its end this:
tested like a witch in the dirty old river
feeling ruined fucked off
bed looks pissed in
skin dried hard and thin
strapped with sternal wire
hung in joints and sides
this is it
the bare life
it feels like love
So its not all hammer and tongs, even though there is plenty of that. ‘History of Sleepwalking’ erupts into the kind of electronic snare drum hits that make you feel like your tweeters are going to pop. ‘Knives Cut’ is all subtle low end rumble with Haswell skreeing circuit abuse all over it. On ‘Condition of a Hole’ and ‘Murder Your Masters’ Froelich tries to outdo Best by screaming her lungs raw. A constant deluge of forced words delivered to a series of monotonous rapid pulse beats. ‘Nothing Natural’ has no words and appears to be the space where Haswell get to flex his muscles, it sounds like Tangerine Dream on a noise trip and ends with someone orgasming.
Consumer Electronics reveal the social dystopia that lies in wait. A world brought about by the ubiquity of freely available antidepressants and pain killers. A world where the excessive consumption of cheap alcohol and Class A drugs leads to family rupture, suicide and self harm. A future of uncaring governments, war, death and pestilence. Its not a pretty world but then neither are Consumer Electronics.