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Bark Psychosis - Hex CD (album) cover

HEX

Bark Psychosis

 

Post Rock/Math rock

3.96 | 48 ratings

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ClemofNazareth
Special Collaborator
Prog Folk Researcher
3 stars When I picked up this cassette in the mid-90s I didn’t know who Bark Psychosis were. The reining kings of the music world were grunge and new rock like Nirvana, Stone Temple Pilots, Red Hot Chili Peppers, and the Offspring. I figured with a name like Bark Psychosis – well… needless to say, I was a bit disappointed. Instead of garbled lyrics and angry rhythms I got Ferryesque vocals and something resembling Kraftwerk over symphony for the musical arrangments. Post-rock really wasn’t a genre at the time, and these guys didn’t fit into any kind of musical paradigm I was interested in, so I tossed the tape in a drawer for ten years or so and moved on.

A few months ago I saw an album review of Codename: Dustsucker, and realized this was the same band. As it turned out, only a couple of the players were the same, but it piqued my interest and I dusted off the old tape once again. Also turns out I didn’t miss much, as the group hadn’t released anything in the ten years between Hex and Dustsucker anyway. I read about mental breakdowns and side projects, and six years in the making of the follow-up – but you can search the web for the same information so let’s not belabor that here.

What I (re)discovered was what very much may be the birth of post-rock music. Turns out this Graham Sutton guy was a grammar school kid back in the late 80s who formed a group of similarly-minded young musicians. They released this disc in 1994, and it sounded nothing like pretty much anything else out at the time. Of course since then there have been a whole host of similar-sounding post-rock groups that have emerged to much greater acclaim than Bark Psychosis, but it seems they may have been, if not the first, at least on the bleeding edge of a new generation of music. Like so many new sounds to come along over the years, they may have been just a bit ahead of their time.

“The Loom” starts off with a very somber piano, augmented after a while by several strings and some mild percussion. A couple minutes in there’s some mellow djembe drum work, and Sutton chimes in with some light Hammond organ and his wispy Dream Academy-like vocals. It’s an arrangement that starts off with a lot of promise, but frankly doesn’t really go anywhere. Good mood music, but that’s about it.

With “A Street Scene” the band abandons the piano in favor of what sounds like a couple of Hammonds, some almost imperceptible trumpet, and a conventional drum kit instead of the djembe, plus more of Sutton’s mumbling lyrics. The only real tempo change is about halfway through when the music is pared to just a Hammond and the muffled trumpet. Other than some soft guitar wandering in a couple of times, that’s how this one ends.

“Absent Friend” has what actually sounds like some programmed drum tracks, and again the heavy use of very mellow synthesized keyboards. This may as well have been an instrumental as the vocals are so faint they are almost nonexistent. Lots of triangle and celestial bell-like percussion at the end, but this is yet another tune that never really takes shape.

Next is “Fingerspit”, piano and what sounds like acoustic guitar, but this really sounds more like a tuning session. Every once and a while there’s a quick flash of some dissonant snare and electric chord sounds, but otherwise this one kind of wanders on by as well.

There’s liberal use of trumpet and organ on “Eyes & Smiles”, although the vocals are so faint that they often sound like simply background chatter. This one manages to work in a couple of interesting build-ups, interesting mostly because one doesn’t often hear trumpet and flute worked into a post-rock crescendo. Sutton’s vocals are largely distorted noise here.

“Pendulum Man” is the longest track on the album, and probably one of the better songs. It starts off like a combination of “The Loom” and “Fingerspit”, but pretty much every instrument heard elsewhere on the album makes it into this track as well. Here again the song doesn’t seem to be either building toward something, or reinforcing any kind of theme, but at least there are some mild tempo changes and the arrangement is quite smooth.

I heard one sample track from the 2004 release Codename: Dustsucker, and I will say that the reformed group’s sound is much more mature and developed today, but this debut effort shows little of that spark.

All in all it’s not a bad record. In fact, the arrangements are decent, and the production quality is very good for that time period. But this is very clearly an early, experimental work by a young group that was many years away from being a cohesive force. It’s worth an extra point probably considering the band’s historic value, but in reality this at best a three star effort. Unless it can be found cheap, I’d probably steer to one of the compilation works (or their new album) if you’re just curious to hear how the band has evolved.

peace

ClemofNazareth | 3/5 |

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