Written by: Brandon DiSabatino
“What is this shit?”
Words forever embedded in my head, spoken in dire confusion by my freshman roommate. He was reacting to the threshing sounds of Throbbing Gristle’s 20 Jazz Funk Greats, which I listened to with a religious zeal during the early weeks of my first semester in college. His negative reception presaged the ultimate demise of our relationship–which did not exactly burst in an amicable, peaceable fashion–and I enjoy such remembrances, where such a piece of music instigated, or set to motion the manifold wheels, which broke the inevitable hump on the Steve Miller-worshipping camel’s back (how I loathed being awaken at the early hours by that flatulent, lip-curdling “Fly Like An Eagle” swoosh, which scattered like a nest of crows across the room, likening it to the dim procession of a thousand fascist steps).
I imbibed 20 Jazz Funk Greats as if it were the unguent, the ineffable potion and elixir of some ancestral past, the funereal rites and dogma which I needed to perform to gain access to some arcane and withered rag-tag of pock-marked, deracinated record store sycophants. I actually hadn’t listened to it in a year or two, as I had nearly forgotten it and its psychopathia-sexualis of sounds and horrors, until word came that a new album had been recorded and was soon to be released–their first record in 27 years.
Some bands should part like biblical tales of wide and raging seas, as their time apart seems to anathematize and drain whatever chemistry they may have had. Throbbing Gristle tactfully maneuvers around this possibility, navigating through the currents and fallen rods to emerge with a record that is cohesive, that is plangent, that is a culmination of all they’ve done before and a slight step forward. I love every damned minute of it. “Rabbit Snare” is like lounge music in the Seventh Circle, “Above the Below” is like being submerged in a torrent, in a deluge, a constant surge–its sounds are liquescent, its atmosphere tenebrous, its inertia lurching dimly. “Almost a Kiss” sounds like the fornication of surgical instruments. “Greasy Spoon” is indescribable. The entire album is suffocating in the most delicious way imaginable–it sends out blazing white images of endless corridors, of barren fields and feculent ground, of discarded and disused machinery suddenly whirring itself on after 30 years dormant–the succor and hiss of kissing saber saws. It is horripilating, it sends out echoes and strident bursts and strikes like iron. It is a listening experience to be taken as a whole, anything on this album out of context would prove devastating, possibly terminal.
I liken it to Scott Walker’s last masterpiece, The Drift, an album which exists solely in the sphere and spin of night.