Monday, November 19, 2012
Mick Harris became known as the insanely fast drummer for the notorious 80s grindcore pioneers Napalm Death, but, after leaving the band in 1991, largely put away his drumsticks and took up electronic music.
Harris formed Scorn with Napalm Death's first bassist, Nic Bullen, and had some success with albums like Evanescence that established a form of electronica that was slower in tempo, heavier in atmospherics and darker in subject matter. While Scorn continued as a Harris solo project after Bullen departed in 1995 until Harris decided to end the project last year, he has also embarked on many other solo and collaborative projects over the years, many of which will be highlighted here later.
Other notable projects include the remarkable Painkiller with saxophonist John Zorn and bassist Bill Laswell, both incredibly prolific and diverse performers, with this trio essentially lasting about four years. Harris played live drums in this outfit, one of the very few instances in whichhe continued to do so after he left Napalm Death, but his departure was largely predicated on his continued dislike of his performance on the kit. Remarkably, there was a one-off reunion of Painkiller in Paris in 2008, which appears not to have been recorded. There will be Painkiller music detailed here in the future, as well.
As will another exceptional collaboration involving a trifecta of recordings with former Eyeless in Gaza vocalist Martyn Bates called Murder Ballads. This 1995-98 project was a modern update of the folk murder ballad, which was popular centuries ago, and Bates' crooning of lyrics dealing with all manner of human crimes outside the pale of polite society are well-matched by eerie, droning, slowly evolving soundscapes crafted by Harris.
Other notable works are efforts with such artists as Eraldo Bernocchi, James Plotkin, Laswell, and Neil Harvey, some of which venture into the so-called "drum-n-bass" territory, while others were more ambient. In any case, Harris' discography is diverse and broad within the general spectrum of electronic music and has a small, but very devoted fanbase.
Another early endeavor was Lull, which has been termed by those who cannot live without labels as isolationist or darkwave, whatever those are supposed to mean. Actually, the former does, perhaps, hint at a key element in the music, which involves washes of sound, bass-like rumblings which can shake the speakers, eerie background noises and an achingly slow development of pulse that is usually almost entirely absent of a pronounced beat. From the earliest effort, Dreamt About Dreaming (1992) to the most recent release Like a Slow River (2008), the Lull project has been one that has experimented with the fringes of ambience, but far removed from the new age-like productions that lie on the furthest end of the spectrum from what Harris has concocted.
To those attuned to this music, it can be extraordinarily beautiful and, yet, is also can be disturbing and unsettling to others who might not be prepared for the starkness of the sounds. For this listener, Lull has been an object of fascination because it is transportive music and creates its own world of truly immersive sound. It does not lend itself to the background or to systems that lack a decent low-end. In the case of YHB, the music is best heard on the home system with a nice set of Klipsch bookshelf speakers that deliver excellent performance on that low-end and works pretty well even in the car, which has a decent system.
The epitome of the Lull experience to this enthusiast is the 1998 Relapse Records release, Moments, the fifth album in the project. This 62-minute work is divided into 99 tracks, but it really is, like its predecessor Continue, a work that is a continuous piece embracing all the hallmarks of the sound Harris had developed with Lull from its beginnings. Notably, the album is said to have been inspired by the soundtrack to the impenetrable, but highly immersive film Eraserhead and it would be interesting to watch the film with Moments playing along with it (actually, this blogger was so close to playing the album for Halloween for any trick-or-treaters who might come by, but there are so few typically and they're mostly small kids who would likely be too frightened to even approach the house.)
It does not seem particularly meaningful to try and describe the music anymore than what is stated above, other than to say that, if one is prepared to give this album (and the other Lull recordings) a dedicated listen and is open to being taken somewhere that can be dark, foreboding and, yet, also captivating and, yes, starkly beautiful, hearing Moments can be one of those moments that expands the horizons of listening to music in an utterly transformative way.