Having had the opportunity to speak to several musicians in the last few years, finding out what they themselves listen to is always a fascinating area I love visiting. How does the music they make relate to music they listen to? Is the music they make – the music they want to hear?
But famously in underground circles, the list of influences ‘The NWW list’ that appeared on the 1979 debut offering by Nurse With Wound – Chance Meeting on a Dissecting Table of a Sewing Machine and an Umbrella, is for nerds like me, more important than the album itself. As for Nurse With Wound, I’ve never been fully engaged beyond the ghostly droning shadows of Soliloquy for Lilith and an epic scale motorik collaboration with Stereolab on Simple Headphone Mind. But the much whispered NWW list detailing almost 300 musicians and bands is something I’ve often pondered and ticked off in my mind at various points of my musical voyage. Whilst Nurse With Wound’s music hasn’t always moved me, it seems as far as influence goes, we certainly worship at a very similar church of freaks.
So this new collection boldly attempts an overview of the list selected by the bands mainstay – Steven Stapleton in collaboration with Finders Keeper Records. String Crack & Break is the first volume that groups musicians originating from France, the country that perhaps surprisingly appears most often in the list than any other. 74 minutes and 13 tracks, by 13 different artists as a twisted threading together of a very particular form of Gallic weirdness. In the same way that the lazy grouping of widespread German musical oddity gets lumped under the problematic krautrock banner, these slices of French, mainly 70’s based mutations, are a genre defining pile of craziness. File under putain bizarre.
Cecile by Jacques Thollot spares no time in creating a piano led, echoing dark ambience. A fragment of something far more traditional, twisted into a jazzy groove with pots and pans percussion. And Phillppe Besombes haunting La Plage does little to settle anything. A gently looping, heavily sobbing woman tugged at by swelling electronics, forms an uneasy entrance to the album.
Materia-Prima looms in with funky drums and squidgy electronic puddles – Igor Wakhévitch plotting an agitated groove. It’s clear in the first three tracks that what String Crack & Break attempts, is both brave and highly problematic. Right away, the thought is continually about how each of these tracks sat in their original homes. How did the weirdness pan out in the album setting? Do these tracks work better removed from their original backdrops or are these the only coherent moments culled from larger slices of craziness that make no sense at all? My inner nerd wants to know this stuff which meant it took me a while to just settle down, and actually just hit play, allowing myself to be seduced into its bizarre twists and turns.
And ultimately, we have a tumbling 74-minute trip that grooves, rants and transforms. The strange corroded guitar and sax duel in Warinobari by Lard Free pulls you deep into the madness. Le Désastreux Voyage Du Piteux Python by Etron Fou Leloubian bounces around for 11 minutes like a more broken form of Gong flavoured jazz with added stoned studio mayhem.
Jean Cohen- Solal creates a slightly demented backing track from an unhinged fairytale in the form of Captain Tarthopom, where geese honking seemingly shape-shifts into human laughter. Solo Un Dia by Z.N.R. is startling given its almost normal structured magnetic downbeat plod. In this setting, perhaps the most conventional song on the entire collection wears a freakish halo.
The 15-minute sprawl of Sarcelles C’est L’Avenir by Red Noise possibly overstretches itself but granted, excess feels like a valid component to be included in the collection. Pierre Henry’s Générique however creates a perfectly concise counterpoint of blurring voice, electronics and harp. Horrific Child by Freyeur and Fille De L’Ombre by Dashiell Hedayat creates what feels like acid laced soundtracks to blurred footage of some wild art gallery happenings.
In many ways, the rolling jazzy oddity of the closer Triptik 2 by Jean Guérin feels like two forms colliding. The nutty electronic middle section animates like a room full of monkeys with bouncing balls and springs. The brassy reflections and electronics both ultimately evolve independently, and finally the whole album feel like things are about to truly lose its shit… But the way it’s sequenced here is no more than a path to silence.
Strain Crack & Break is ultimately a highly curious listen. Like that playlist you’ve deliberated over, simply picking all your favourite tracks somehow doesn’t quite work. Light always works best with shade so the album becomes a dappled listen. What to leave out, what to keep and what to change? It’s only natural to see this collection, like the original list, is attempting to bridge the impossible. The result here is like a compressed slice of something incompressible. A subject matter impossible to be made more concise.
The disc becomes a signpost to bizarre new pockets of discovery, or an easy to swallow trippy mushroom of French oddness. Despite the enormity of the task, Strain Crack & Break certainly makes a startling opening volume to what will be an invaluable survey of sound.