I’m sometimes asked why I don’t turn email notifications off on my phone. I have four different accounts, all of which are pretty busy, and receive notifications for all of them on my phone. It’s a genuine cause of stress. But I refuse to turn off my email notifications, quite simply for the same reason I leave notifications on for Facebook and Twitter: I don’t want to miss anything that might be important. That one notification in a blizzard of quite literally hundreds could prove crucial. You never know.
I clocked Andrew Weatherall’s name in the title of an email landing in my inbox at around half past two in the afternoon. I was working – dayjobbing, not writing – and I didn’t think much of it until about an hour later when I noticed Facebook was suddenly brimming with posts about his sad and untimely death.
The last time I had to pen a review under such challenging circumstances was in January 2016 when I was asked to deliver a review of David Bowie’s ‘Black Star’ to a 24-hour deadline. There may not be a deadline here, but Weatherall is an artist who’s touched the lives of so many, and across a full gamut of genres, as beloved by those who grew up on indie music as in clubs, as well as the more underground scene, the world of warehouse raves – and unanimously respected by all factions.
This limited-to-1000-copies-vinyl-only release (which is sold out in advance) reminds us that however far he ventured into commercially successful and critically-acclaimed territories, he remained true to his techno roots. The press release promises ‘two thudding, low slung tracks’ on which Andy Bell ‘returns to join Andrew in the studio, layering a haunting, tripped-out guitar line over the top. File under cosmic dub’.
‘Unknown Plunderer’ forges a deep, trippy groove, a thick, low bass bouncing slow and hypnotic. It’s not about trajectory but repetition, and if anyone understands the power of a strong but understated groove, it’s Weatherall, and this groove makes its way into your body by stealth. It’s very much about the space, the atmosphere, and operating to the tenet that less is more.
And so it is that the appropriately-titled nine-minute ‘End Times Sound’ thumps out an insistent kick drum beat around which electronic bleeps whizz and fizz like shooting stars. There are some dubby clattering percussive additions that echo off toward a darkening horizon, while a haunting guitar drifts in an out, carving a motif reminiscent of the (fade out bit) on Kraftwerk’s ‘The Model’, only played by an 80s goth band, soaked in chorus and delay… and then a lone and lonesome harmonica drawls in and things take a kind of twangy Western turn: for a track so sparse and spacious, there’s a lot going on, and all of it works.
While this release won’t register in the scheme of his legacy, it’s entirely representative of one of the most wide-ranging and wide-reaching multi-skilled artists of the last 25 years, and who spent a career continually redefining boundaries.