Having plugged away at both recorded and written poetry, Equinox is finally releasing his debut album. His poetry takes no prisoners with subject matter ranging from male suicide to prostitution, but with equal amounts of undying love and devotion. The debut album, It’s Hard To Be Happy When Your Head Is Full Of Sin, released on Recordiau Prin Records, is made up of spoken word performances/poems recorded by Equinox who then invited fourteen artists to freely interpret his work, including Vince Clarke (Erasure, Depeche Mode, Yazoo), Deux Furieuses, Radio Europa, Pulco and Feral Five. The result is a genre-spanning release, from electro to funk, post-punk and cinematic electronica all with Equinox’s compelling Mancunian voice.
Opener ‘Help Me Please’ (feat. Ashley Reaks) is incredibly atmospheric and has a barely audible accompaniment to Equinox’s gorgeous tales of regret and seemingly needing salvation as an atheist sinner. God damn! Follow up ‘Kiss’ (feat. Feral Five) has a really nice gentle throb of analog synth and Equinox’s clever word play intermingling and again obsessing about unrequited love/lust? Or is it coming to terms with one’s own mortality? The layers of electronica build and build to a fantastic final third of this track.
‘Sarah Jayne (Aftermath)’ (feat. Ceiling Demons) is an intensely personal letter to a lost friend. A dying friend? The music makes the lyrics more poignant and after several listens to this short track, the gravity of the subject matter hits you and it ends up being 59 seconds of stunning heartbreak. ‘Somebody Too’ is again another painfully open hearted message/love letter to a long forgotten loved one. It’s a very personal and romantic track. The piano and last quarter voice accompaniment from Rosie Bans is inspired and completely works.
‘Don’t Die On Me’ has a sample heavy groove from Snippet. It’s freaky and funky with its breathless vocals. Quite different to what has come beforehand. It’s actually a really sexy song albeit with Bate’s spoken word delivery with its raw subject matter with the repetition of the song title. There’s a very Material or Avalanches feel to this track, fascinatingly raw. ‘Goodnight Vienna’ (feat. Vince Clarke) is a devastating account by Bates of finding a suicide victim. Clarkes’ beautifully haunting piano accompaniment just adds to the drama and visceral words.
‘Sweet Rose’ (feat. Radio Europa) has a twinkly Eno-esque feel that melds with the heartfelt and often graphic lyrics. Radio Europa’s clever use of a guitar sample is inspired and adds to the melancholy and overall drama of the piece.
Gentle acoustic then electric guitar starts this slow burner of a track ‘Mule’ (feat. Nat Lyon). The percussion backing comes in and it starts to sound like recent Wedding Present output. Refrains of “stubborn old mule has nothing to give,” add to the unflinching window of emotions that Bates is allowing us to peer through. As with the tracks before, it’s hard going at times, but overall it is 2.28 minutes of loveliness. This is quickly followed by ‘Scream’ (feat. Pulco) which is again religiously themed with dissonant numbers station inspired noise and electronics from Pulco. It’s passionate, and as always with Bates, its naked and blasphemous. I fucking love it. ‘How It Is’ – JAYmiX (feat. Jay Stansfield) has twinkly keyboards with a heavily distorted voice coda effect. Over the top Bates produces another poem about the importance of family and appreciating the people that mean the most to you.
‘Humankind’ (feat. deux furieuses) is, along with Snippet’s collaboration probably the most upbeat in tempo track on this LP. Bate’s spoken work is distorted and played over a noisy and instant guitar, drums and the female vocals. The repeated refrain of ‘Humankind’ is barely audible over the guitar feedback and distortion. It’s really effective and Bate’s voice is basically used as another instrument in the mix. Clever stuff and one of the standout tracks of the LP. ‘Gone’ (feat. Superhand) is an epic 7.40 beginning with a slow Fuck Buttons-esque build up of noise and sounds. The demented world of Superhand really starts to take hold and Bates’ words intermingle alongside the otherworldly effects. It’s big in sound and scope. Yet another standout track.
The album closer ‘Belief’ (feat. Will Harris) loses none of the impetus and creativity of this piece of work. Haunting piano combined with the Will Harris backing of oohs and ahhs mixed with the Bate’s lyrics is basically a minute of the near genius of what this poet and his collaborators are capable of. It’s over far too quickly and almost feels like a taster of things to come. Equinox’s talent for writing poetry, reciting it in an impassioned way and then asking collaborators to add music, effects, noise or whatever they want has a masterly fluid approach that leaves a lot to experimentation and error. But what seems to happen everytime with Equinox/Bates’ work is the wonderful marrying of effective and carefully chosen collaborators, mixing with the visceral and often painfully raw subjects of the words spoken.
It’s very clever, very moving and very contemporary art. The subject matters are pertinent and reflect exactly what is happening in the world these days. Equinox’s output is to be both welcomed and celebrated. Great stuff.
Review by Ioan Humphreys
Listen to ‘Humankind’ ft. Deux Furieuses: