- Each of Perc's albums has used a vocal sample as a skeleton key. On his first full-length, 2011's Wicker & Steel, '90s Britpop figurehead Louise Wener waxed lyrical about "Englishness" and "crap suburban existence." The album, gloomy and mystical, reckoned with Ali Wells' own home counties upbringing. On "Rotting Sound," from 2014's The Power And The Glory, Mike Patton explained that his musical ideas started out "either as a joke or as something really horrible." Sure enough, the album oscillated between dark comedy and grotesque industrial techno.
Bitter Music's equivalent, appearing partway through the barren techno tundra of "I Just Can't Win," is a bit less poetic. The sample is from British pop artist Peter Blake, talking about responses to his collage work: "People said, 'Why'd you stick the things on, why didn't you paint them?' And when I do paint them they say, 'Why did you bother to paint them, why didn't you stick them on?' Just can't win." Wells loops the quote in the track's breakdown, so that Blake is doomed to endlessly get it wrong—first by sticking, then by painting. At some point the kick drum starts up again and the whole thing trudges bleakly on.
The rest of the album follows this depressive cue. The roiling anger of The Power And The Glory has been replaced with deadened drumwork and empty space, and the last sparks of dance floor funk have been extinguished. Wells' starting point was "the micro politics of personal relationships," and in places Bitter Music sounds like a break-up record with grim industrial shades (see "Look What Your Love Has Done To Me," featuring a deadpan Gazelle Twin). But the last year's various political upheavals led Wells to turn back to the bigger picture. The title of "Unelected" will resonate with followers of current British politics—compare its cold, spartan stomp to the cackling "David & George," from the last album. So will "Exit" (from a relationship, or from the EU?).
Accompanying this, Wells' sound has a distinctive new twist. The album began life among the salvaged Radiophonic Workshop gear at Stockport's EVE Studios. On tracks like "Chatter" and "Rat Run," spring reverb tails and smoky clanks try to float free of techno's pulse. On the likes of "Wax Apple," where sour piano chords spar with grubby feedback trails, they succeed. The results are fresh and fascinating, but rarely offer the aggressive hit you might expect from Wells' music. When they come close, as on the manic "Spit," something seems different. The dark ecstasy of, say, The Power And The Glory's "Take Your Body Off" has been replaced with a pummelling inevitability.
Wells has resisted laboured connections between his music and British politics, but his albums have nonetheless paralleled the way things have gone. His first album appeared a year after the Conservatives took power. His second expressed growing anger. His latest reflects a post-Brexit curdling of the mood. In recent weeks, a snap election has been called, and we may be facing a rout of the British left, a "hard Brexit" and decades of economic and social decay. Wells' remorseless new album might be the sound of us marching towards this grim fate, unable to turn away.
03. Wax Apple
05. I Just Can't Win
06. The Thought That Counts
07. Spit feat. Aja Ireland
08. Rat Run
09. Look What Your Love Has Done To Me feat. Gazelle Twin
10. After Ball