THE SONG OF PHAETHON
I worry about my friend Ian. Going through some tough times. Aren’t we all? Yeah, but not all of us have created one of the albums of the year and seen their work utterly unheralded. I thought that ‘The Vertical Axis’, Crause’s masterpiece from late 2013 was something it would take a while for the ex D.I frontman to move on from, so stunning an inversion of all musical rules and habits was it, so total was its blazing of a trail, scorching the earth behind it, making forward motion the only option. He’s found a way though. By pushing ‘Songs Of Phaethon’ back out there, three songs from his recent past, a call, a zenith and a fall. Three songs that utterly reconfigure your expectations of what listening to music can be. It’s music that, as you listen, scares you because it’s rubbing so much music out, erasing so much of the timewasting retrograde cowardice of contemporary pop, not ‘introducing’ you to a new kind of music but plunging you into it headfirst, dazzling and disturbing you sonically, intriguing and immolating you lyrically. That’s perhaps, beyond the substance & sound of these songs, beyond the allusions and suggestiveness of the lyrics, the most headwrecking thing about ‘Songs Of Phaethon’. It does that thing that you’d almost forgotten music can do. Bullies your head away from all distraction. Takes you on, takes you somewhere. Insists that only honesty can get us out of our present stasis, only fearlessness can destroy our fear. For all Crause’s isolation, his is some of the most giving, the most generous music being made on the planet right now this side of Juana Molina. Impossibly, irresistably, it believes in its marrow that new things can be made.
New and ancient. I thought I was too dumb to unpick the wider metaphors and allegories behind Crause’s choice of Phaethon as the protagonist and arc of this record – but I’d heard the word before. I remember Richard II in Shakespeare’s play camply submitting to his pursuers with the line ‘Down, down I come; like glistering Phaethon/ Wanting the manage of unruly jades in the base court’. Reading the incredible lyrics Crause has written for ‘Songs Of Phaethon’ I’m wary of accepting what I’ve been told about him using the Phaethon motif as a direct allegory for the primary political fracture of our recent history, our entry into the Iraq war. I can see it, I can let it work, but it’s not the limit of this art. For me, the songs here are about the unpicking of both god and man’s arrogance, the destruction of grace and the scattering of will to the shifting sands of time, change, the incessant brutalisation of commerce, the collosal hubris that comes from a holy war. And its message is genuinely timeless, always timely, will still hold as this planet creeps towards solar death. These are songs in which aeons pass, civilizations grow and fester and die, songs where temporally you’re continually moved between modernity and the ancient and classical world by the imagery but simultaneously skewered right here right now by the sheer rush of the sound, the suggestiveness of the samples and textures, by the splicing and dicing and playfulness with source that can only be from now or the future.
As with all Crause’s solo work, this is a riot for the ears, a palpitating ebbing living sound you can touch and taste and feel, a sound that doesn’t happen in the room you’re in but actually becomes the world you are in. Not quite a conjuring because Crause always walks that essential tightrope between total control and prone vulnerability to his own music, like he’s set something in motion he can’t commandeer, can only join, cling on to, try and be heard within. Like Public Enemy and Young Gods, still to me his clearest influences, he upends the reverent rules of sampladelia, exerts infinite finesse to create something that sounds both feral and mystical, documentary and magical. Opener ‘Phaethon’s Call’ seems structurally to flow from no kind of music any of us have ever heard, an imagining of ancient form, a white griot, a futurist plainsong. Reading lyrics like “Every day their shadows ran / down Asia like a lyre, strumming / past his village, swinging down at perihelion / to touch upon his mother’s house / then over dark and quiet woods – / their distant hawks and watching deer / oblivious in bending shade – / descending into seacloud mist, / and down towards the gull-cloud cliffs / to pour their jewels and precious metals / out along the sea” I’m reminded of Fairport at their most timelessly dream-like but what truly makes the song work is Crause’s infinite attention to the details of the sound that bleeds over and swells under his words, his total refusal to secure what he does in habit or the familiar.
‘Phaethon’s Zenith’ reveals that Crause’s sounds are familiar but not musically, they’re familiar sounds of life, of the body and the street and the temple and the warzone marshalled, twisted, opened up and splayed open in a way that pulls you close up, sends you to a satellites-eye view, sends you through undersea tunnels, scorched desert trails. I don’t know how to listen to this music, I just know that while it plays it possesses me completely. This might not be what music’s meant to do anymore. Might be considered rude, inappropriate for music to refuse to slot along lifestyle and actually engulf you in this fashion. Crause’s music is a constant reminder of the kind of possibilities of sound and word that his aforementioned heroes and others (I also hear Kristin Hersh, William Blake and Jimi Hendrix) have always pushed towards. And hearing it now, in 2014, is like stumbling across a new colour, something that hasn’t been commodified and could not be. So rare. So precious.
Perhaps the most incredible half-hour of music you’ll hear all year (and certainly by light-years the most absorbing and disruptive music with guitars on it you’ll hear all year) closes out with ‘Phaethon’s Fall’, an immolation, a total war. Sirens, horses hooves that become helicopter blades, carnage, star-glimmers that turn into firestorms. Startling and yet so immediately and instinctively understandable, clear. And all the way through, Crause keeps his voice in a unique place in modern music, not quite obliterated, not quite foregrounded, central and dangerously exposed like a looped magnetophone abandoned on a battlefield. “The deserts melt, the northern woods that kiss the sun are cinderised, the very earth is carbonised, jets of fire plume the earth’. And we, the listener, where are we? Not hearing this from a safe remove. In the thick of it, as alarmed, as tense and calm as our interlocutor, joining the death march. “Who’ll pick at this and chew on their dusthole graves . . . all will be just words by then, chewed nutrient in lawyers mouths and bank accounts”. And, once you have a chance to catch your breath, you realise how silent music has been about the world of late. In taking the world on, in refusing to hide, in finding such a poetic way of rendering the political, Crause knows he’s isolated. But he, and us, shouldn’t accept this music’s current obscurity as an expression of a natural artistic order. Go to bandcamp, buy this thing. In that act you are defending music, you are standing up for its possibilities. Ovid had Phaethon’s epitaph as ‘Here Phaethon lies who in the sun-god's chariot fared/And though greatly he failed, more greatly he dared’. It’s only us who could let Crause fail. His continued unsigned status isn’t the inevitability we’ve been tutored to think intense art experiences have to emerge from, it’s a shameful stain on the supposed health of our music culture, could be if allowed to persist a dark despairing stop to any hope one can conjure about the future of music. Hope, vision, wonder however are things that Crause’s music, even in its bleakest traumas, gives you in a ceaseless rolling tide, again and again, every time you hear it or let it in. Don’t let this year pass without hearing one of its most mind-melting, heart-stirring, soul-swallowing transmissions. For the ages.