Review : Cut Hands - Afro Noise I
PitchforkWhen artists with established styles shift into new sonic territory, they're often reluctant to talk about the change. After all, words can ruin the mystery of something as abstract as musical direction. William Bennett must not be worried. In interviews and on his various blogs, the founding member of UK noise group Whitehouse has openly discussed his fascination with Africa, how it influenced Whitehouse, and how it eventually led to his Cut Hands solo project. Bennett has even given his new style a name: "afro noise."
Bennett's candor turns out to be wise, because the more you know about Cut Hands, the deeper and richer the music sounds. The artist's longtime interest in African culture and world sociopolitical issues (see his Extreme Music From Africa compilation, or the reading list on his website) adds layers of meaning to the songs. When you learn that Bennett has studied African voodoo, or that he uses native instruments like djembes and doun douns, all the rattling activity on Afro Noise I starts to sound like the rumblings of a global subconscious.
Besides, there's still a lot of mystery here, particularly in how Bennett can make such spacious, often-catchy music retain the penetrating relentlessness of Whitehouse's all-out noise. Part of it is simple evolution: Three of the tracks here are from previously released Whitehouse albums, and they complement newer pieces that mix gunfire beats, heavy atmospheres, and piercing tones. But even the songs that skew furthest from Whitehouse-- like "Impassion", which could soundtrack a nature documentary-- have the dark, foreboding quality of Bennett's previous work.
In keeping with Bennett's omnivorous tastes, Afro Noise I also shows impressive sonic variety. On "Stabbers Conspiracy", overlapping layers of pulse and clang reach Autechre-like levels, while the echo of "Rain Washes Over Chaff" and grind of "Shut Up and Bleed" dart between eerie calm and screeching panic. Ultimately, every sound that Bennett adds to his core of percussion reinforces the beats. But taken together, those sounds are a lot thicker and thornier than they appear on first listen....full text
DustedmagazineWilliam Bennett. For a certain noise fan, that’s a name that will always elicit a certain frisson. Pioneers of the Power Electronics sub-genre in the early 1980s, Bennett’s Whitehouse took the provocative stance of early Throbbing Gristle and elevated it to terrifying heights, with unsettling musings on rape, murder, misogyny and torture set to strident, aggressive strains of tuneless synth madness.
If I’m honest, most of the crass posturing of the Power Electronics scene seems old hat and silly these days (despite a certain revival with Ramleh’s awesome Valediction and The North Sea’s Bloodlines); but as the decades advanced, it became clear that Whitehouse, again like Throbbing Gristle, had more going on than the chasing pack, with 2003’s Bird Seed demonstrating an interest in African polyrhythms and a more textured, nuanced approach than on ‘80s outings like Erector and Dedicated to Peter Kurten, Mass Slayer.
It appears that this long journey has now come to fruition on Bennett’s solo debut album as Cut Hands. As its title suggests, Afro Noise takes up the challenge Bennett set for himself with Whitehouse and fuses the abrasive textures of that band with a greater exploration of the timbres and rhythms of traditional African music.
The percussion is what hits you first. On the second track, “Stabbers Conspiracy,” harsh metallic patterns tumble out of the speakers like a collapsing pile of ballbearings, undercut by more discrete djembes and doundouns. It’s a tasty welding of the icy post-industrial clang of Power Electronics, and something that feels earthier, even warmer. Later tracks, such as “Rain Washes Over Chaff” or “Munkisi Munkondi” (already a stand-out feature of Bird Seed) feel almost rock-ish with their motorik grooves and swathes of echoing synth lines. Indeed, you almost feel a connection between Afro Noise and the polyrhythmic, afro-tinted industrial songs of early 23 Skidoo, Test Dept. and Einsturzende Neubauten. But, typically, Bennett’s exploration of the influence and role of Africa in modern music is darker, more ambiguous, a world away from "world" music....full text
BrainwashedObsessively edited and finalized over the past four years, this new side project of Whitehouse's William Bennett has certainly had its share of pre-release hype, and thankfully it exceeds the expectations I had for it. While there are a few similarities to his other work, there are also a great deal of differences to be heard, making it a distinctly different project.
Susan Lawly/Very Friendly
For those who haven't been following its creation, Cut Hands is Bennett’s exploration of traditional African percussion instruments, along with a tasteful amount of processing and synthesizer accents. It might seem like a shocking shift, but it’s not. While Whitehouse have often been unfairly pigeon-holed as just a noise band with sexually explicit vocals, they definitely evolved into something much more complex and varied.
Bennett's interest in African percussion first found its way onto Whitehouse's Bird Seed album as "Munkisi Munkondi," which also appears here. The track still feels more indebted to noise rather than African percussion, but it was the clear start of this project. Actually, if rumors are true, Bennett himself is solely responsible for the Extreme Music from Africa compilation from 1997, putting the roots of Cut Hands all the way back then.
For better or worse, the African inspired tracks from the last three Whitehouse albums are included here, the aforementioned "Munkisi Mukondi," "Nzambi Ia Lufua" from Asceticists 2006, and "Bia Mintatu" from Racket. They stand out as a bit harsher in comparison to the new material, and they’re also already familiar to Whitehouse fans, but it makes sense to include them here in this context.
This new material might not have the same brutality as Bennett's other work, but it lacks none of the intensity. The complex polyrhythms of "Stabbers Conspiracy," for example, clatter with the rapid intensity of a gang of Somali warlords firing their black market AK-47s. Elsewhere, “Shut Up and Bleed” takes the same rapid fire percussion approach, but with the addition of raw and painful synth noise that is as abrasive as any of his other work.
The strongest pieces are actually, in my opinion, the more spacious, ambient ones. There's a certain cinematic drama conveyed in them, fitting considering some of these tracks appearing in a few documentaries previously. "Rain Washes Over Chaff" and its drumless reprise "Rain Washes Over Every Thing" utilize clipped synth swells and brass instruments to mimic the animal sounds of the jungle, creating exceptional tension throughout. "++++ (Four Crosses)" also drops the percussion entirely, using the digitally processed sound from the last few Whitehouse albums to create a shimmering, melancholy ambient piece that is actually quite beautiful....full text
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