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Capturing just one emotion can be a near impossible task for any musician. Often attempting to do so leads to work that is either impenetrable or unlistenable…think of the near toxic “Here, My Dear” from Marvin Gaye where the rage about his estrangement from his wife Anna. While that album may have been somewhat rehabilitated in the years since its release in the eyes of critics, for me the bitterness that cuts through it makes it, at best, uncomfortable.
There is a reason why, in literature, awards exist for bad sex writing…remember Morrissey’s “bulbous salutations” as he tried to capture the mood of sexual arousal and first contact in his novel, “List of the Lost”? No? Probably just as well.
But there are moments in art when the creator captures a mood, an emotion, that can lift the viewer, listener or reader to an elevated state. Tracey Emin’s “Everyone I Have Ever Slept With 1963-1995” captured intimacy, betrayal, hurt, love, hate and more…in a tent. It was a profoundly moving piece of work.
All of which brings us to “Psychological Colouring Book” from Scissorgun, released as part of the ever impressive Cue Dot series. The band, compromising Alan Hempsall of Crispy Ambulance and electronic musician Dave Clarkson, set out to make an album during lockdown that would showcase a “spectrum of moods”. They believe that what they have actually created is a document of their favourite things.
I think they have managed to achieve both things.
There are moments here where the unsettling impact of this pandemic era are captured perfectly. “Seasick”, at just 53 seconds, is unsettling, disquieting and terrifying in equal part. Suggesting that the sea offers either escape from life itself or that some cleansing of our collective souls is required before we can truly move on. Something similarly distressing is achieved with a track like “Deep Six Your Wristwatch” which made me feel uncomfortable, making my stomach twist and knot for reasons I couldn’t really explain to you.
Then there are moments of unrelenting joy and uplift. “Tangie Biscotti” sounds like the best night out you have never had. It pulses, pushes and pokes at your heart and soul, daring you not to tap a toe, stamp a foot or clap your hands. It sounds like the best glam rock pop stomp single ever…if glam had been crafted by electronic artists. Or something. It’s a floor filler is the lazy way to explain it. But even here there is something darker lurking underneath the surface.
At times there are nightmarish, Lynchian, soundscapes which seem to have been drawn from our universal breakdown in the wake of lockdowns, masks, death, family separation and all the rest, if “Significant Gesture” doesn’t make you feel the same way…congratulations.
Throughout there are flashes that feel…familiar? Echoes of the likes of The Prodigy on tracks like “Sybarite” and album opener “The Grind”. Underworld and Chemical Brothers on something like “Honeymoon Guy”? But those moments are whispers, ghosts of imagined inspiration, blink and you miss them, because what is really happening here is that two artists are allowing their minds and hearts to be expressed with absolute freedom.
“Psychological Colouring Book” is exactly that…sketches of collective trauma, universal experience, emotional discomfort, inspirations and dreams, all laid out ready for you to add your own “colour” through your own experiences and interpretations. To have captured so many moods, so many states and for it to sound so utterly original is quite the achievement. A late contender for album of the year…for those who will listen.