Available on: Accidental LP
Last seen in 1998, it has been a long time since the last Wishmountain release. However, as Matthew Herbert says of resurrecting his earliest project, ‘I felt like making some old fashioned dance music.’ And why not? The concept for his latest album under this moniker, Tesco, is just as simple; take the ten top-selling items at the UK’s number one supermarket and create a protest piece of sorts about them, presumably through converting their overbearing reputations into something people dance to.
Whether you believe that this, as club music, is an effective form of protest compared to his more narrative, politically charged and quite spectacularly visual live shows, is probably down to your own leanings. Indeed, compared to the grandstanding commentary of such projects as Plat du Jour and the One series, Tesco has no obvious references; listening with no information would likely garner no hint of what was going on.
However, this thematic content actually feels far more like a simple means to an end to enable Herbert – ever the rigorous conceptualist – to create something new for himself without expecting anything from the audience in terms of connection-making; the result of people dancing to these creations probably justifies everything for Herbert. Happily, as dance music it is undeniably good, so he’ll probably get his wish.
Apparently Tesco took just four days to make, but its quality does not suffer for it – if anything, this quickfire approach seems ideal to reign in the scale of the project and keep it fairly functional, which Herbert does to spartan effect. The result is 40-minute affair of eight tracks, tending to be made up of a rhythm section and three or so interacting motifs, with additional variation inserted in between. It is all very simple in this respect, but very successful, additionally retaining his singular air of wry humour.
Each track title names the sources of its samples, thus ‘Nescafe’ is made entirely from recordings of Nescafe products. Herbert is an exceptional talent in the field of contemporary musique concrète, with all the presumptions that come with sources such as ‘Kingsmill, Hovis and Warburton’ subverted by surprisingly extreme choices; in this case a percussive march, full of exploding snares and falling car-alarm-like tones. ‘Walkers’, similarly, confounds expectations with filtered drums pounding in double and half time beneath a wildly overdriven bassline and long distortion stabs.
The album as a whole retains consistency through a homogeny of timbre and production quality, a rough ‘lo-hi-fi’ palette, notably similar to Blawan’s own concrète techno, and labels like GLUM and Restoration. Despite this particular, compacted raw stress Tesco is also very much melodically focused, much of the results arguably just as poppy as they are gritty.
‘Lucozade’ opens the record with exactly this, its style comparable in part to Konono No. 1 and Harmonious Thelonious; African in its 2nd beat accent rhythms and rising motif, voiced much like a flute through a fuzz pedal. With a clicking, clapping beat similar to Lenky’s ‘Diwali Riddim’, ‘Nescafe’ follows with hefty, blunt bass tumbling under bursts of higher register, over-driven pops and submerged, bass bubble gestures.
‘Fruit Shoot’ features a crushed, plastic sample quickly revealing itself as a 6/8 loop, subtle Autechre-meets-Herbie-Hancock bottle-blown voices and pings emerging slowly and cautiously. ‘Dairy Milk’ is then almost a sped-up Pole, a low ‘tom’ part phasing noticeably beneath pitched 808-like ‘snares’, with plenty of noisy artefacts forming a rough cloud around the parts.
‘Andrex’ travels along a sustained, buzzing drone that fades gently over its 2 and a half minutes. Tightly-delayed conga-like percussion underpins it, joined by swift percussion smacks, like punch sound effects from a martial arts film. Lastly, ‘Coke’ rounds off proceedings in brief, menacing style, full of deep, pitched drums drenched in chamber reverb, scattered pulse gestures and soft, twisting, bit-crushed bites.
Any one of these superbly warped dance tracks could cause both curiosity and a rush of energy on a dancefloor. While it is a shame some tracks aren’t longer, Tesco is like Giuseppi Ielasi for clubs, and therefore something well worth exploring.