Even given the fact that collaboration is the norm among experimental artists, there is something unique in Strings of Consciousness’ defiantly collaborative spirit. The group is little more than a loose collective of up to 14 mostly European experimental musicians centered around electronic artist Philippe Petit and multi-instrumentalist Herve Vincenti. They seem to draw a peculiar energy from bringing others into their creative process. Their discography runs the gamut from relatively straightforward collabs like 2009’s Strings of Consciousness and Angel to more out-of the-box projects like Fantomastique Acoustica, which featured four original instrumental compositions followed by nine untitled free-form remixes of the band’s aural catalog by a variety of electronic artists. By far their most alluring and ambitious work, however, has been their trilogy-in-progress, which pairs the group with an astonishing array of legendary figures from the world of post-punk, noise rock, and experimental music. The group’s debut, Our Moon Is Full, featured astounding vocal performances from such luminaries as J.G. Thirwell, Barry Adamson, Scott McCloud, and frequent Petit collaborator Eugene Robinson.
From Beyond Love is the band’s second entry in the trilogy, and it marks a new refinement of their mercurial, genre-melding experimental rock. Moon was a looser record, and with a few exceptions, the vocalists opted for a spoken-word delivery that led to some exhilaratingly inventive moments (Robinson’s hardboiled magnum opus “Cleanliness Is Next to Godliness”), but also to a handful of tracks where the pairings felt forced or unnecessary (Pete Simonelli’s smug, somnolent vocals on the otherwise excellent “In Between,” later re-released as the instrumental “Mossgarden”). From Beyond Love maintains the lush, dreamlike textures of the group’s previous work but puts them in service of a leaner, more rock-oriented sound.
Album opener “The Drone from Beyond Love” is argument enough for the success of this approach. Vincenti’s guitar sweeps through the nearly eight-minute track like an avalanche, gaining mass in great, shuddering lurches while the metallic strains of Alison Chesley’s electric cello dance around its path of destruction. And at the center of it all: Made Out of Babies’ Julie Christmas. The song’s mounting entropy puts the metal diva’s limited vocal range in the best possible light, and as Vincenti, Petit, et al. build toward their cataclysmic apex, Christmas uncorks a full-throated wail that is devoid of all theatricality and calculation, yelling as if fighting to be heard over the caterwaul threatening to engulf her.
The tracks that follow turn away from the anthemic in favor of queasier terrain. “Sleepwalker” evokes some of the textures of Petit’s Oneiric Rings on Grey Velvet, thanks to the prominence of his electronic psalterion. Perceval Bellone’s evocative sax playing lends a classic noir flavor to Current 93’s Andria Degens’s repeated protestations: “I am not a sleepwalker and neither are you.” Graham Lewis (of Wire fame, no stranger to collectives or collaborations himself) lends his voice to the waltz-like “Bugged,” while Throbbing Gristle’s Cosey Fanni Tutti contributes to the album’s shortest and strangest entry, the sinister lullaby “Finzione.”
The crowning jewel of this set, however, would have to be the titanic, 20-minute “Hurt Is Where the Home Is,” a duet, of sorts, between no-wave legend Lydia Lunch and Eugene Robinson. Robinson delivers a reliably explosive performance as a murderous lover, but it’s Lunch’s frigid coos, dancing enticingly between an invitation and a sneer, that propel the track to such frenzied heights. The two speak at each other and about each other, but never really seem to be communicating, and at times it seems that this cruel-hearted prostitute is not really Robinson’s lover at all but some twisted reflection of her that exists purely in his imagination. Lunch drops out about seven minutes in, when the free-form drone undergirding this dance of death coalesces into a melody that is at once propulsive and somehow elegiac. And Robinson is alone. Alone and gibbering, his voice swallowed intermittently by waves of guitar and noise, until we are left with only his wordless moans and Bellone’s mournful sax to carry us out.
From Beyond Love marks Strings of Consciousness’ most powerful and moving marriage between instrument and voice, a lusty fulfillment of the bold promise laid down by their debut. The compositions here are rich, complex, and moving, and they consistently bring out the best in their (very talented) collaborators. Now, if I may make one suggestion to the band? Get Michael Gira to appear on the final installment.