Faust are a venerable institution in experimental rock, and even if only two of the original members remain on this most recent recording from the legendary group’s post-‘disappearance’ renaissance (and bifurcation into two fluid, distinct groups), Something Dirty has something of the reliability and surprise of rediscovering a trusty, well-trod paperback on the shelves of a particularly high-quality, secondhand but not-to-be-outdone bookstore.
In this incarnation, Faustian oldhands Zappi W. Diermaier and Jean-Hervé Peron are joined yet again by new artbreed couple James Johnston and Geraldine Swayne. Johnston is an ex-Bad Seed and star of Ken Russell’s Fall of the House of Usher, a film in which his Seeds-honed sense of melodrama was exploited by a shocking(ly bad) production. Here he lends his multi-instrumental talents and ear for a spooky dirge to Wurlitzer, synths, Theremins, and more. Sonic eclecticism has always been a pact with Faust, and Swayne duly doubles up with lieutenant Péron on the psalterion, adding this archaic instrument to a suite of vocals, varied keys, and percussion. Péron himself can be proud to count cavaquinho, toy vibraphone, freaking goats’ hooves, and a fucking flamethrower among his armory. Meanwhile, head honcho and perennial band member Diermaier speaks simply with his fists, bringing drums and — well, there must of course be some concession to the komische — ‘metal’ to the table.
Despite being armed with a sonic arsenal that would, on paper, make Einstürzende Neubauten or Yamantaka Eye reach quivering for diapers in mortal fear of a brown note, the album is remarkably balanced, if typically digressive. Something Dirty is as if Willem de Kooning tried his hand at calligraphy before furiously, gleefully folding his scroll in two, then opening it up like a bruised, resuscitated flower to reveal an anarchic and unevenly symmetrical avant-rock Rorschach. On the primary side of this fold, the first muffled guitar scribblings of opener “Tell The Bitch To Go Home” (not to mention the title) might have you hovering by the volume control, expecting, whether or not you’re familiar with Faust’s habits, something dangerously industrial. Instead, what emerges is a wickedly satisfying and low-slung instrumental garage jam, sneering and textured. It’s a fantastic piece of Krautrockery, blending the inventive and repetitive, and given snarl by a bleeding organ churn straight from Johnston’s long-lived swamp rock coterie, Gallon Drunk (for whom Swayne has directed several videos).
The second track likewise misleads in title and execution. “Herbstimmung” (“Harsh tendency”) turns out to be a gorgeous, chiming slow-build post-rocker that makes me pine for a pairing with HDU’s “Lull” or the Dunedin veterans’ latter-day whimper-bang apocalypse “Tunguska.” It’s a genuinely moving highlight that lifts the listener from the bitter melancholy of “Tell The Bitch” to another, salt-eyed and brimming plane. Title track “Something Dirty” continues this bluff, following equally epiphanic on the coattails of “Herbstimmung,” before whip crack percussion, snippets of spoken word, incidentals, and grunts bubble forth — and the album, succumbing to the Faustian modus operandi, begins to come unhinged.
The bluff is called as clouds of synth billow over a round of whispered poetry in “Thoughts of the Dead.” Before long, the bluff is reached and the sure-footed signal of the opening trifecta is lost in a subdued organ and tremolo’d guitar shimmer that stalk the road below Swayne’s voice, pitched somewhere between Beth Gibbons and a far more seedy Hope Sandoval, leavened by leaked traces of hubby Johnston’s sometime collaborator, the definitely Faustian Lydia Lunch. Lynch (David) would love it, and with mid-track bursts of acceleration and gulfs of reverb opening suddenly below Swayne’s voice — breathiness giving way to breathlessness — we are confirmed in the suspicion that there is a malignant magma trembling near the surface in this album. The next track, “Je Bouffe,” is the infernal vent that reclaims that superficial soul.
The bluff, the beachy head, is finally overshot when, without so much as a pause, Diermaier lets loose with some hardcore drum rolls before shifting gear into a waltzing, ranted poem. It is this gear grinding but assured attention deficit, from calm to furious and vice versa, that defines much of the second half of the album. Guitar stabs meet chunks of THX sfx. A Deerhunter/Atlas Sound chorus in “Invisible Mending” slips into the drunken, mutated slipshod hip-hop of “Dampfauslass 1” (c. “Steam Discharge Opening”). This first in a suite of two matches synthetic drums and growling one-note bass with scrawls of variously treated guitar, synth, and a wild-eyed menagerie of samples (an insane carpenter’s workshop, Orwell’s Animal Farm, workplace accidents, a bracing melange casseroled together by Péron’s flamethrower, perhaps). Its partner (like a minute hinge on the other side of the hinge that recalls its mirror image — the twin to this dark side of the album) is a shorter, denser noise rock workout that hurriedly washes the listener up on the shore of the last track proper in this schizoid collection. Rubbing your eyes (or your temples) and looking up, you hear distant primal drums heralding the angular — read geometric — stop-turn-start structure of “Pythagoras,” an iron-fisted set square corroded by acid that announces that the Faustian ride to purgatory is about to screech to a halt.
Look back and toss upon the jumbled heap the jokey, scraped ditty of a coda “Save the Last One” and you’ve got a typical Faust album — one that lures you in with transcendent promises before taking a U-turn and sinking its claws into your contented heart. It’s beautiful, thrilling, and delirious in equal parts, a balance (or rather an obstinate, disorienting tug-of-war) that owes its existence to Faust’s agreement at the crossroads to always be ready to upend the scales and give the finger to the guarantor of musical weights and measures. I’m looking forward to the next session. Prost!