Sunday, May 7, 2017

Prolapse's "The Italian Flag": Music Review

Archeology students plus experimental drama practitioners rarely tend to form a band. In Leicester back in 1991, six young people did. Prolapse means "to fall out of." This suits the shambolic style of a group inevitably compared to The Fall. As with its unpredictable presence Mark E. Smith, so here with "Scottish" Mick Derrick. Hirsute and lumbering, he towered over co-vocalist Linda Steelyard. The two tangled on stage, he mumbling and raving in a thick, impenetrable accent. She parried his physical and verbal abuse with her defiant English lilt, and often got the better of him in their tussles.

This relationship, enacted on records throughout the '90s, fronted a post-punk and shoegazer blend of harsh and gentle textures. Prolapse's musicians fought back with their instruments against the vocal tag-team. The band's thundering rhythms and slashing guitars alternate with tipsy saunters. These efforts generated few sales compared with the critical acclaim Prolapse garnered, so revisiting The Italian Flag may entice indie-rock fans two decades on, raised on Wire, PiL and The Gang of Four. 

Three eclectic EPs appeared during 1993 and 1994, unheard by this reviewer, but some of their songs repeated on their first full-length, Pointless Walks to Dismal Places. Accurately titled, tracks such as "Hungarian Suicide Song" and "Headless in a Beat Motel" clanged out a dour mood. The latter song, however, sparked brief energy on a largely listless and downbeat collection of dirges. Signs of sonic resuscitation were sustained in "Tina, This is Matthew Stone," an enactment of kitchen sink strife. It's the kind of manic performance where one expects to have that proverbial sink thrown in.

Prolapse perked up for Backsaturday in 1995. Although laid down in two days, these tunes rattled about more melodically. Their rattle and roll resembles a truckload of instruments careening about. "TCR" highlighted the band's lead track, with a knack for a catchy beat. It eased the trepidation for listeners who may have stayed clear of the band's rowdy concerts, played out as if cage matches.

The thirteen songs on The Italian Flag benefit from enhanced production. Thanks to Julian Cope's guitarist, Donald Ross Skinner, adding keyboards as well as studio expertise, Prolapse return for album three as far more assured. Finally, an entire Prolapse album stays sharp. "Deanshanger" and "Cacaphony #A" highlight David Jeffreys and Patrick Marsden. They hammer out the loud and soft tones needed to complement the tension between Mick Derrick and Linda Steelyard. Churning chords sway about and spin. This guitar duo clamp down and pound in the messages buried in the dense mix.

Unlike Prolapse's previous albums, this one features a lyric sheet. Although its CD booklet renders the typeface nearly unreadable, the clever arrangement of two pages with Mick's words separated from Linda's repeats their call -and-response, phased arrangements. The middle of the album rises to happier moments. "Autocade," "Tunguska" and "Flat Velocity Curve" incorporate chiming keyboards (thanks to Skinner). "Visa for Violet and Van" emphasizes "Geordie" Mick Harrison on bass and Tim Pattison on drums as they interlock. Throughout, tunes remain punchy and compact, freed from the gloomy detours which slowed down many previous recordings. Finally, glimpses of beauty emerge.

"Bruxelles" finds the two singers trading off a litany of nouns. Most are everyday items. But only one gets repeated by both voices in turn: "money." This could have been a Samuel Beckett short piece.

The final entry, "Three Wooden Heads," leaves Linda Steelyard in a schoolyard sing-song mode. She trills a refrain from an old chant, while the distorted harmonies from the band conjure up a rustic and morbid past. An extended take on such an eerie lullaby morphed into Prolapse's final album in 1999. Again well-named, Ghosts of Dead Aeroplanes stirs electronic layers into a guitar-bass-drums foundation. It builds upon the promise of The Italian Flag. These albums, presenting the fruition of Prolapse as a formidable and memorable creation, attest to this ensemble's angular, if ardent, stance. (Spectrum Culture 3/22/17)

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