Album Review: Abstract Concrete – Abstract Concrete

Charles Hayward should be a household name, perhaps even a national treasure. He has been an innovative and experimental musician and singer for nigh on 50 years now, playing with Phil Manzanera in Quiet Sun back in the 70’s, providing his unique take on modern experimental jazz prog even then. As a member of This Heat in the early 80’s he broke up the rule book and released two seminal albums that resonate even today, name checked by bands like Squid and Black Midi. Since then he has been a prolific artist, collaborating with a myriad of people from Coil to Thurston Moore, always on the periphery of art and innovation.

It was while working with a cast of musicians for the This Is Not This Heat project that he began to formulate the idea of a new band with people who excited him musically. With the idea of throwing people out of their comfort zone violinist Agathe Max (Kuro, Ukaea) learnt the viola, while upright bass player Otto Willberg (Yes Indeed!, Historically Fucked) was given the task of transferring to electric. Yoni Silver (Hyperion Ensemble, Steve Noble) has swapped his traditional clarinet for keyboards, and Roberto Sassi (Vole, Cardosanto) comes in on electric guitar.

The songs came together in fragments over a period of time and were realised through the process of recording, ‘I’ve always got fragments of songs just waiting to find a home’. Take for example the song “The Day The Earth Stood Still” (‘farewell rock and roll, as if we ever cared’) , the idea for which had been ‘going round my head for over 25 years’. The lyrics throughout concern themselves with topics ranging from Covid to the role of music, and are never too far from being political, as he explains they are ‘a reaction to the times we’re living in’.

Although Hayward and his fellow musicians operate mostly on the edges of commercial music there is a pop sensibility at work here. In the immediacy of tunes like the bossa inspired “Sad Bogbrush”, which sounds uncannily like Damon Albarn singing for King Crimson, to the disco tinged “Tomorrow’s World”, Hayward’s plaintive cockney inflections sounding at times like Robert Wyatt, repeating the question ‘are we there yet?’ over the funkiest fluid bass line. The song “Ventriloquist/Dummy” is perhaps the most “prog” and maybe belies his roots the most, with the scratchy guitars and odd time signatures, but the viola flows and B-52’s organ stabs perfectly compliment and elevate it into something more unique.

The highlight of the album for me has to be opener “Almost Touch” , where everyone is laying out their stall in the most dramatic style, the dub inspired bass playing, the angry melancholia of Hayward‘s voice pleading ‘tear down these walls, brick by brick, stone by stone’, while the synth layers descending riffs around him, and the drums which batter away insistently, creating dynamics so easily it’s almost as though the song itself were breathing, heart thumping in unison. It’s a tour de force.

This Heat were a pretty big influence on me, especially the album “Deceit”, and Charles Hayward‘s voice was above it all pinpricking its way into my heart with its desperate softness. It’s so wonderful to hear him still as good as he ever was, surrounded by a cast of musicians as attuned to the spirit as ever, and I look forward to many more.

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Andrew Wood

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