The All Seeing Hand – Sand To Glass (Muzai)

 

The All Seeing Hand are renowned for their energetic, immersive live shows. They’re a trio of turntables, throat and drums – Alphabeathead on electronics and turntable, B. Michael Knight on drums, and Jonny Marks on vocals – which includes some amazing Mongolian throat singing. This is their fourth album, described on the press release as “a precision engineered audio sculpture”.

In an attempt to write my first impressions of their latest studio offering, a possible title I thought of was ‘Anthems for our Dystopian Future’. It’s a full-on, industrial, yet subtly layered beast, and a satisfying first listen. To quote the press release again:

Sand to Glass… bears witness to the growth of civilisations and their impact; loosely telling the story from bone tools, alchemy and marrow, through to collapsing stars.”

Having said that – it’s clear that in the remains of this dying kingdom, we still have time for a bloody good dance, that’s for sure.

The cover art, created by Daily Secretion, reflects the gnarly dystopian world depicted in the album. A planet, or some other sphere of life forms, hangs suspended in a black hole, in a vast night sky filled with stars. On the next panel, a densely crowded skyline billows out a thick cloud of white smog, sitting on an island of what appear to be brains, fossils, and various plant life. A fringe of glowing tendrils hang from the bottom of the island, floating in that same night sky.

Rather than just write a straight album review, (which I’d find rather boring to write, and would probably be quite boring to read) I thought I’d take this album out for a proper listen. See how it plays out in different environments. Look at this album as a soundtrack, a piece of sound art, as well as something to dance to. If you already know what I’m on about, or you already like this band, you don’t need to read this, go and listen to it for yourselves. But if you’re curious, you can read on for a description of my first few listens on this 10 track sonic journey. Indoor vs outdoors. Travelling across town on a bus. Traipsing across the Domain on the way up to the Museum. It’s the difference between playing it while dancing round your living room, to listening while walking on the beach, watching birds fly overhead and looking at dead things washed up on the sand. If you like, you could even listen to it while reading this.

First listen:  In the lounge at home, on the stereo, with or without headphones on various tracks.

A lot of dancing happened on this listen, with some swiftly scribbled notes in between songs. I wanted to give myself the space to dance around freely, or lie on the floor and take it all in. And there was a lot to take in, believe me. An overriding thought that kept coming back was, ‘I really need to see this live. This is really good, but imagine how it would sound in a decent venue!’ I’m a live music junky, and for those who like industrial, crunchy, colourful and complex music that’s rhythmical, and super tight – this album certainly whets your appetite.

My favourite tracks so far are: 1 – ‘Temple of Bone’, 7 – ‘Silicon & Synapse’, 8 – ‘Lizard Brain’, 10 – ‘Rag & Bone’, and 3 – ‘Cro-Magnon Corp’.

Track 1 – ‘Temple of Bone’

It starts with a dark buzzing, low and slow.  Steady but purposeful. It’s dark and cavernous with a high flying buzz overhead. Very spacious.

Track 3 – ‘Cro-Magnon Corp’

This is more of an explosive crunchy one. It starts with a string of synth noise bubbling upwards. The trademark bass buzz and crisp methodical drums really anchor it. Jonny gets to sing some lyrics over a slow swaggering bassline and there’s a lot of screaming and squeals of feedback slotted in to the mix. It builds up to a roar, twists and turns, ducks and dives. There’s a few decent sledgehammer blows as it slows down dramatically towards the end. I really need to see this live.

Track 5 – ‘Sand to Glass’

The title track. A harsh, stark beginning – an alien sounding high pitched melody strikes out into the silence. Another steady and slow track, it creeps in, with the words drip fed slowly, one syllable at a time. Two voices in unison, one octave apart.  Quite hypnotic.

7 – ‘Silicon & Synapse’

Uniform drum beats to begin. Then some colourful spacies sounds, a liquid bassline and more bleeps and bloops. First real playful dance track on the album. A technicolour kaleidoscope of sounds. I spent the second half of this track dancing round like a lunatic. It’s a banger alright.

8 – ‘Lizard Brain’

By now I’m really hooked into the industrial driving beat. What’s this one about I wonder? Reptilian shapeshifters? (Or the lizard brain, as in our reptilian brain, that controls vital functions such as our heart rate, breathing, body temperature and balance.) There’s more light and shade on this one, woodblocks answered by bass and drums, then back to the industrial buzz. Machine-like and precise. There’s a good amount of screaming on this one too.

10 – ‘Rag & Bone’

A quiet acoustic intro on a Tovshuur (a traditional Mongolian stringed instrument) changes the mood completely for the closing track. Soft bird-like synth sounds fade in, and the sweet high pitched harmonics of the throat singing. It blossoms and fills out slowly, an ever expanding flower. It’s very calming. The Tovshuur plays on, soaring upwards, epic drumbeats tumble out like a slow cascading waterfall. The last slow notes are plucked on the strings, and it’s done. I sit in silence for a minute, feeling very Zen. That was some journey.

Afterwards, I send a message; “Just listened to this all the way through. I can confirm it’s a headphones album.”

Second listen:  On the beach, fresh breeze blowing, a thick white ceiling of cloud with a decent patch of blue sky on the horizon.

It’s a Thursday, around lunchtime. You’re sitting on a sun baked rock looking out at Rangitoto. A lone paddle boarder pushes off on his journey, as the glowering glow of the first bass note hits.

Track 1 – ‘Temple of Bone’. The jellyfish seem to have gone, thank f**k. There’s an abandoned dog collar on a rock to your left. A seagull flies high overhead as the lyrics come in – “awaiting instruction…”

It crosses your mind that Sand to Glass is a concept album; the opening track is the starting point for a society “awaiting instruction on purpose and form”.

The wide open space of the sand and ocean before you complements the expansiveness of the sound.

Track 2 – ‘Jupiter’s Moons’. You get up and walk a bit further down the beach. It’s really good walking music, well striding really.  You’re striding down the beach, propelled forward, breaking into a run with it’s sudden bursts of energy.

Track 3 – ‘Cro-Magnon Corp’.  The dizzying synth spiral fizzes upwards like a dozen Berocca dropped straight into your brain. By now the full force of this thing’s really got you. You run towards a small bay between the rocks and start splashing your feet in the shallow water, watching large droplets explode towards you in slow motion. Your senses are heightened. Adrenalin + high octane soundtrack + intense layers of sound + fresh sea air = more adrenalin. Your head is buzzing. As the music speeds up, so does your heart rate.

The drum beats pummel relentlessly, with squalls and squeals of powerful synths over the top. The song slows down dramatically towards the end, and it really gets you.

Track 4 – ‘Dog Eat Dog’. Yup, this one’s growing on me. A chorus of voices. “Do-o-o-g.  Eaa-aa-aa-t. Do-o-o-og. Eaa-aa-aa-t…”. backed by a straight ahead marching drum beat, it morphs and howls, and slowly paces along, Jonny’s doing a mixture of yodelling, and bluesy high pitched vocals. The droning in the background sounds a bit like bagpipes.

Track 5 – ‘Sand to Glass’. (The cold alien intro is a bit sci-fi for me, but I think that’s the point – it’s meant to be.) The stark melody could be a giant synth keyboard in the sky, heralding the arrival of our new Lizard King. You’re deep in the dystopian atmosphere now, and this track plays oddly on a leisurely beach walk. The industrial sounds are slightly jarring, casting a weird futuristic vibe over the three guys walking together on your left. As you wade slowly through the water, the soundtrack syncs up again. One of the guys skims a stone, and it hits the water just as the bass drops. BRRRRRRRRR. Feels like you’re in a weird, trippy music video.

Field notes part two: At the bus station, around three in the afternoon, on your way to the Museum.

Track 6 – ‘Swarm’. Flies buzzing, right in your ear. You imagine a large pile of rubbish, the noise and temperature rising with increasing intensity. You’re slowly pacing on a row of yellow squares in the sunlight. The bassline drops, and the drums come in, like a solid anchor yet again.

The lyrics are catchy – “What’s the buzz? That’s the sound of rot.” There’s a spoken word bit, and some very subtle bleeps and noises, in amongst the flies and the synths buzzing. There’s a lot going on in this track.

Then Track 7 – ‘Silicon & Synapse’ comes in, its undulating liquid bassline accompanied with a flurry of candy machine sounds and colours. It’s an instant brain buzz, really wakes you up.

Track 8 – ‘Lizard Brain’. You’re on the bus, heading out of town towards the hospital. You feel like the driver would like this one. He has a short ponytail, a moustache, and wraparound shades on. Late 20s, early 30s at a guess. Those meaty machine-like beats push on through as you cruise through the traffic…

Track 9 – ‘Gravity’. The first few seconds of the intro remind you of Black Mirror. Eerie. Then it slams in with those drum beats again. You’re cruising through the city, looking out the bus window. There’s a church and a skinny high rise apartment building to your left.  The lyrics come in; “black hole.” Quiet tones again suddenly, is that the sound of our planet falling in? Then the beats and noise slam back in, that’s the sound of our insides being spaghettified as we get sucked through it. The music is raging. You pass a desolate figure to your left, on a park bench, her grey hair in ponytail, sat next to her backpack looking drained. You’re crossing Grafton bridge, the music speeds up again. Hum Salon to your right – briefly reminding you of that summer with the newborn puppies, and those happy hippy friends you had. Right on cue, Track 10 –‘Rag & Bone’ arrives, with its contemplative, simple string of Tovshuur notes bringing you back home again.

You listen as you walk across the Domain, up and down rolling green hills to the Museum. Once again, feeling perfectly Zen.

Good news guys, this album’s a keeper.

Dedee W

https://the-all-seeing-hand.bandcamp.com/