David Thomas Broughton “Crippling Lack" Triple 12
- 100 minutes over Pyongyang
Ambition is to be admired - without ambition and endeavour, projects like this triple 12” released in three different months on three different labels on three different continents, would never come to fruition. DTB has been a favourite of this writer and website ever since we were privileged to receive a copy of his unassuming debut. That record introduced us to his singular and fully formed style; since then he has refined and experimented but at heart the simple looped patterns rubbing up against his deep resonant vocals still persist. The way he builds songs is hypnotic, they gain power from repetition and often leave me salivating like Pavlov’s dog waiting for the next cycle to appear.
This set of songs is thrillingly good - it varies from almost punchy folk pop to long-form genre deconstructions; each and every moment is compelling. Volume 1 contains five songs. It starts with the title track where a simple repeated guitar figure persists. Broughton’s voice seemingly waking from a torpor before it gains its usual command; it isn’t the greatest voice but it does pull your ear towards it, it is singular and it works perfectly as the stoic centre to the songs. ‘Beast’ introduces other elements, squawks, squeaks, keyboards, multi-tracked vocals - it’s like Music Hall as performed by Gilbert & George. The occasional bursts of tinny synth drums adds to the hallucinogenic nature of the song, the voice though navigating a straight course, pushing on like a Victorian Colonial Administrator ignoring the vagaries of the immediate environment.
‘Words of Art’ features the deadpan vocals of Aiden Moffatt - he’s perfectly suited to this universe, it’s back to guitar bass and drums and those repeating patterns building a set for the vocals. Waiting for Godot, it’s two minutes before DTB enters the fray, then Moffatt takes over, and they trade lines, graceful strings enter, then staccato plucks as the pace picks up. The elements all present as the vocals continue to trade lines like they occupy separate tiles on a split screen, they begin to overlap and interleave at once separate and diurnally bound, but eventually it all breaks down like a clockwork toy coming to rest. The last two tracks both approach ten minutes - ‘Silent Arrow’ is DTB at his most conventional, his voice approaching what you would recognise as singing, the backing the usual intertwining patterns stitched together with meandering threads of electric guitar. It’s a wonderful track but it pales alongside ‘Dots’ which closes the EP. ‘Dots’ is well named - it is a pointillist masterpiece: all those notes plucked, bowed or hammered form into elegant patterns, along with tempo changes suddenly plunges into full rock band all falling headlong like a cascade of coins at a penny falls. As it progresses cello and violins add a layer of richness to the surges and ebbs, all quite gloriously marrying together folk, post-rock and classical into an irresistible force, different instruments surfacing like flotsam in a stream before they disappear back into the foam. It’s a track I could have on repeat all day.
Volume 2 contains only three tracks - the short punch ‘River’ featuring Sam Amidon and two much longer pieces that play around with form but never descend into the mire of wilful obscurity. ‘Concrete Statement’ starts in classic DTB styles, guitars looped into patterns, his voice ploughing its own furrow. Gradually the guitar wanders away from the tune and is interrupted with flashes of dissonance whilst a cello pushes itself to the front of the song - a battery of drums and acoustic strums all elbow in, thriving or fading, there is constant churn with callbacks to the central theme. It’s the kind of brew to get lost in, the kind to close your eyes and surrender. When the song breaks down and is just a few mechanical noises, I break surface, DTB’s voice returns, the guitar returns, a swelling beauty from the strings pulls me under once more, atonal guitar plinks do not bring me to the surface, they are just like the light dancing behind my eyelids, another patterns in a solar systems of patterns. I surface at the end of thirteen and a half minutes to press repeat.
‘I Close My Eyes’ is a slow burner - for the first half it explores the song conventionally, playing around a little, then at halfway it picks up on the refrain ‘and I know I have potential’ multi-tracks the vocals, looping them as the music gather in more elements, layers upon layers like filo pastry. It’s DTB at his most experimental, pushing elements together and against the odds wrestling coherence from likely confusion - that’s what his live shows are like, they constantly threaten to fall apart but he knows exactly what he is doing and it is that proximity to chaos which can be so thrilling. Volume 3 circles back to Volume 1 with ‘Crippling Lack Part 2’ - it recycles the same melody but stretches out over twice the length, it gives the opportunity to pull the song apart, fiddle with the wires and expose its workings. The initial sunrise of cymbals and looped vocals nearly overwhelms the tune as it hovers as though unsure how to move forwards; it continues to drift until the cymbals fade and the rotating guitar figures return and with the last vocal refrain.
‘Gulf’ is less challenging; it starts with gently lapping guitar and a cello that is as beautiful and solid as an oak tree, the lead vocal supported by a backing vocal and it highlights the amount of space there is in these songs, the gaps between the notes filled with anticipation and expectation - there’s a shiver of excitement as each new note arrives. Beth Orton adds some fragile female vocals to ‘Beast Without You’ - they contrast vividly with DTB’s rumblings and as they follow their linked but separate paths towards the end of the song, it finishes on an absolute high. Last up is ‘Plunge the Dagger’ which features Luke Drozd’s unsettling spoken word vignettes up against DTB’s most concentrated singing, the two voices disconnected, as are most on this record which dissects the failure to communicate as DTB and the guest vocals always following different courses. And as ever the music follows its own logic, weaving its own patterns, having its own arguments, vacillating between beauty, function and dissonance.
Individually the EP’s are fantastic. Taken as a whole it is a staggering achievement. DTB has carved out his own niche and he is an absolute master of what he does - this won’t have mass appeal but for those who get it, it will be the most satisfying and enduring release(s) of the year.