People Pleaser (2017)

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This on Oren Ambarchi’s Black Truffle label. Jazz drummer does concrète and sandbox sampledelia. Sounds like an Olivia Tremor Control and Sunburned Hand of the Man collab for Leaving Records. Open and exciting yet still pretty strange.

Abrasive and intensifying opener ‘Doubletrouble’ has synth screeches shot through with  elastic, tumbling drum fills. Slams into the paranoid, sweltering drones of ‘Creeper’, fidgety Necks cymbals and voice tape samples culled from the ether. Distinctive start – caustic and careering, perhaps the technicolour chaos of Black Dice.

‘Fognap’ winds into life with a looping, brassy sample which sounds like it’s come from the soundtrack to an old cartoon, Raymond Scott-ish. Then it crumbles, hanging with sparse chimes and fragments; lazy recorded interviews and breathy reverse vocals. ‘Slimcake’ later reconstitutes these sounds as a mournful, hovering mist.

PP swings between scavenged sampling and blasts of instrumental improv. ‘Khmerfrays’ (like the later cacophonously oscillating ‘Switchstance’ and the pressure-heated squall of ‘Whackjob’) resorts to the latter, but micro and contained, like it’s a spinning toy flashing in your hands. ‘Easylay’s’ choral depth and thin noise could almost fit on async.

‘Signlanguage’ sounds like drunk Madlib; there’s something kind of amusing in the way the polyrhythmic arrangement peters out into an insistent knocking that is bluntly metronomic (like why were you enjoying that).

‘Whackjob’s’ later scarab scuttling and sampled yelps are a lipcurlingly weird combination. Like a half-broken VHS player that runs on hamster wheels turned by metal cockroaches. ‘Headzdropa’ is only a 30-second interlude but it’s one of my favourite tracks here; it starts like ‘Signlanguage’ but swoops into a morning-TV trumpet jingle. A lot of the noise blasts on PP are technological, like cross-interference of waves.

We’re unceremoniously kicked out the album’s back door by the analogue rattle of ‘Snowdown’. Tumbling through the output chute of a steam-driven engine that produces very bitter sweets.

Not especially substantial but it’s fun to bounce around in for 30 minutes. Bit like the cover: colourful but modal, and with a sort of unflatteringly proficient technicality underpinning it which makes me think of Jim O’Rourke.

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The Street Sweeper (2011)

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Read alongside Sebald’s Austerlitz for a course on Dickens and Human Rights in contemporary fiction, but slowly began paying more attention than was required for work.

Perlman’s support for Sebald’s line that “only in literature can there be an attempt at restitution over and above the mere recital of facts and over and above scholarship” is expounded fairly laboriously, as TSS treats us first to hundreds of pages of facts before showing us the extra work it can do.

(Staged discussions about testimony and voice, history of facts and of motivations overlap in the form of parallel narratives: a probationary African American hospital-worker is compelled to listen to the account of an Auschwitz survivor at work while a deadbeat historian toils in the negative space around his institutional employment to reanimate the story of a pioneering psychologist’s work with WWII Displaced Persons. Both threads dramatise problems of memory, empathy, and audience that dog historical enquiry; meanwhile Perlman fleshes out the recalled historical events in their own concurrent narratives, thereby pushing past ‘historical’ work with fictional construction.)

Part of Perlman’s point is that fiction can shrink impossibly large worlds and problems into manageable microcosms; he is a little over-exuberant in elbowing our ribs while winking towards his coincidences and contrivances.

He also clearly believes that fictional writing has the right and the ability to delve into indescribable experiences – sections on the Sonderkommandos and the Lager gas chambers are appalling but adroitly handled; a sense of urgency in imagining these scenes.

TSS was in need of a cynical editor but Perlman can be partly excused for overabundance: after Lanzmann’s Shoah there is a sense that enough can never be said about this history, although this undermines Perlman’s own small-world model awkwardly.

Also worth noting that while Perlman does good work unearthing the historical academic David Boder, on whom TSS‘s investigative émigré psychologist is based and to whose disquieting inquiry I Did Not Interview The Dead we (probably) in fact owe the tradition of Holocaust oral history that Lanzmann cemented, he nevertheless alloys fiction with fact in less palatable fashion: tarnishing Boder’s neglected memory with fabricated ethical ambiguities to pry into a particular guilt Perlman detected in his interviews.

Perlman’s own narrative voice is often too knowing and self-important but his novel asks interesting questions about the role of literature in preserving history and memory. An interesting though fairly tiring accompaniment to Sebald’s work and Philippe Sand’s own excellent study East West Street, from last year.

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