Brisbane musician Andrew McLellan doesn’t title his songs. It’s a deliberate act, not born of laziness or contrariness, but out of a realisation that to name something is to limit its meaning. It’s probably a bit old-fashioned to speak about meaning in art. Still, there are artists out there, whose work doesn’t shy away from addressing the big questions of life – absurdity, mortality, freedom – within an essentially degraded medium such as pop music. The stuff that McLellan makes under the name Cured Pink is just that; it’s simple (simplistic even), repetitious and rhythmical. But it’s also throw-away, scorched, post-industrial blues.
A drum machine thuds away, buried under a slag heap of distorted bass. A cymbal is slowly beaten into submission. A voice howls in an approximation of existential pain. Others have mined this territory before: Swans’ Michael Gira, Einstürzende Neubauten’s Blixa Bargeld, Suicide, all artists revered for their willingness to stare into the abyss and welcome the abyss staring back into them.
It’s a project that seems almost archaic now. These days we want our music to be lighthearted and entertaining. Why dwell on this dark stuff, when it’s been shown over and over to be a dead end? But still, there’s something liberating to be found in this mess, this collision of noise and inarticulate, juvenile defiance. Critics speak of catharsis, but this over-simplifies the meaning of the noise musician’s creative act. Catharsis implies transcendence, but there is nothing transcendent about the sound of Cured Pink.
It’s a heavy, leaden trudge through filth-encrusted, entropic reality. In Cured Pink’s universe, escapism is for the weak. It’s almost a foregone conclusion that there’s nothing at the end of the road. And it’s this nothingness that matters, because it defines the journey.
Unlike Bargeld, who remains laden with the weight of centuries of teutonic philosophy and Weltschmerz, and Gira, who is haunted by the specter of fundamentalist Christianity, McLellan entertains no illusions of self-importance. For him, the simple act of doing the same thing repeatedly is enough to justify his existence.
While Cured Pink’s music may sound like a man raging at (and in) a void, it is also a defiant act of celebration. These spontaneous howls and improvised song fragments are teetering on the edge of chaos. Gleeful destruction is central to McLellan’s music, whether on stage or in the recording studio. But it’s also fun! It’s the same approach Jon Spencer’s iconoclastic early group Pussy Galore employed when they took a sledgehammer to the history of rock’n’roll. Unfortunately, Spencer discovered that he was still in love with the edifice that he had just torn down, and has spent his subsequent career trying to piece the fragments back together.
Listening to Cured Pink’s album, one gets the feeling that McLellan experiences none of this ambivalence. It’s such a single-minded statement that no matter what he decides to do in the future, it stands as a great big, misshapen lump of a monument to a brute life force beyond the framework of civilised society, acceptable modes of artistic expression or clearly decipherable statements. In other words: It’s absolutely feral.
by René Schaefer (Mess and Noise)
released June 24, 2010
Hypgnostics: Andrew McLellan
Mystics: Bill Speight
At the Queensland Conservatorium
Except for Living #1, 2
Recorded by Marly Luske
At Tidy Space, Alchemix Studios.