Bark Psychosis – Hex (reissue)

Bark Psychosis – Hex (reissue)

Although namechecked frequently as a British post-rock milestone, it’s doubtful that many people – besides dedicated Discogs diggers – have acquired a decent copy of Bark Psychosis’s 1994 album Hex for some time due to its long stint in out-of-print purgatory.  Certainly though, members of Dakota Suite, Piano Magic, Last Harbour, Savoy Grand and Mogwai must have known and loved the album during its initial period of availability in the mid-‘90s.  Interestingly though, those expecting to merely hear an Anglicised answer to Slint’s Spiderland with this newly-remastered reissue on Fire Records will be in for some historical surprises.

As the sole LP from the band’s original run (before the not-quite-reunion CODENAME: Dustsucker album in 2004) Hex was the highest watermark of an extensive and at times fraught backstory peppered with a series of self-questing singles/EPs, creative tensions and record industry politics (as eruditely outlined in a recent Quietus feature by the scholarly Wyndham Wallace).  Forged by the core line-up of Graham Sutton (vocals/electronics/guitar/keyboards), Daniel Gish (keyboards), John Ling (bass/electronics) and Mark Simnett (drums/percussion) and ably assisted by assorted strings and brass players, Hex is an intensely-crafted affair that draws together a lot of divergent ingredients into its highly-refined sonic stew.  Whilst the post-rock tag became affixed to the album on the back of a terminology-coining contemporaneous review by journalist Simon Reynolds, Hex is a far more open-ended and complex beast unrestrained by the strictures of a now over-used genre pigeon-hole.

The sublime scene-setting opening of “The Loom” undoubtedly captures a group capable of both tight-playing and lush studio arrangements; with gradually mounting layers of baroque piano and strings, prowling polyrhythmic percussion, elemental drones and Sutton’s hushed tones fitting together serenely in the shadows cast by Talk Talk’s Spirit Of Eden and Laughing Stock.  The ensuing “A Street Scene” may make cross-references to Chicagoans Tortoise with its bobbing rubbery bass-lines and offbeat drum patterns, but its ethereal guitars, strings and synths pull towards more atmospheric This Mortal Coil territory.  The lengthy “Absent Friend” brings in Augustus Pablo-style melodica whilst shimmering cymbals and Robin Guthrie-like guitars again tip a hat to ‘80s 4AD, with Sutton peculiarly sounding like a slowed-down alcohol-free James Johnston of Gallon Drunk.  Dub-influenced bass drives the dynamics on the blurry bleakness of “Big Shot”, whilst allowing space for jazz-slanted percussion and ambient Eno-ish synth washes.

The start of the of the album’s second half strips things down to the desolate disquiet of “Fingerspit”; which moves back and forth between skeletal restraint and the cusp-of-rage edginess.  In its wake, the equally sprawling “Eyes & Smiles” takes things up a few notches pace-wise by gradually coiling together Durutti Column guitars, shimmering cymbals and stalking trumpets to the reach an unnerving coda, wherein Sutton’s vocals are pushed somewhat uncomfortably into the red.  Proceedings conclude more soothingly with the near 10 minute darkened bliss of the vocal-less “Pendulum Man”, wherein hypnotic guitar figures swim through balmy droning to round things out within amniotic calm.

Even if re-examining Hex track-by-track helps to unpick what makes it tick to some degree, there remains a beguiling inscrutability beneath its admirable and pioneering multi-tiered construction. Whilst you can spot its influences and how it has influenced, it still largely remains in a bubble of its own making, which this new edition showcases with renewed aural-fidelity. Hopefully, an anthology of the non-album Bark Pyschosis catalogue will follow to re-tell the band’s whole story in the near future.

Fire Records