A brief history: Zoviet France was one of the original ‘groups’ that came out of England in the late 1970′s ‘post-industrial’ movement. However, while other groups considered to be post-industrial concentrated on heavily dark, pagan imagery, shock tactics and feigned outsider status to cement cult followings and lofty positions within the formal Art world, all the while paying very little attention to the actual music that they were releasing; Zoviet France always functioned first and foremost as a compositional and improvisational collective, where the sheer musicality of the their sonic output was the first and only concern. Musically speaking, the music they made was more closely related to pre-techno ambient, with audible ties to the psychedelic and British Free-Improvisational movements of the 1960′s.
ZF split in 1992 into :Zoviet*France: (still operational as of writing), Rapoon, and with Robin Storey from Rapoon and Mark Spybey (Zoviet France, Dead Voices on Air) continuing what they see as the Zoviet France ‘Experiment’ as Reformed Faction (of Zoviet France).
And how, you might rightly ask, does all of that history have anything to do with reviewing a simple album? It acts as something of a disclaimer. I am, without shame, a huge fanatic of the work of Zoviet France, both pre and post split, and am especially enamored with the work of Mr. Storey, both as Rapoon and as Reformed Faction with Mr. Spybey. Out of any of the post-industrial bands, the only one whose work I can even sit through any longer would be ZF and related. Which makes this review a little strange.
One of the defining characteristics of Reformed Faction has always been a concern with beauty over image, music over art and the human ear/psyche over concept or attempts to shock or outrage. Yes, the music tends towards being ‘dark’, there is an ongoing theme based around the colonization of personality by outside forces, a heavy mystical edge… but, Reformed Faction has always been one thing I could trust to be able to listen to without alienating others around me. It is just, really, good music.
This album is an exception. It is still very, very good, but not something I can listen to around the house without my earphones on, nor something I would dream of putting on in a carload of people or around my coworkers. I find it a little harder to get into than some of their previous releases, and a little less deep. I thought that it might be a bit of ear fatigue – Reformed Faction has released three new albums on Soleilmoon this year, two of them doubles, and in fact they’ve been the only NEW releases I have purchased in 2012. So, I thought maybe I had just overdone it a little. Not so. As I write, I am sitting listening to a huge mix of Rapoon and Reformed Faction, and still, I find this a little difficult to sink back into. I also do not find it listens well at immersive volumes, but sounds much better at a more ‘adult’ listening level.
This album abounds in organic textures, samples of guitar playing, cornet, singing, speaking, breathing. Whereas other releases have tended to be somewhat dis-associative, full of breathtaking textures conjuring imaginary landscapes, the work of this year, and this album in particular seems to be much more ‘frontal’ and even at times abrasive. Reformed Faction normally invites one to get lost in their world, here they seem to want to confront one with it. Still very good, just surprisingly different.
Still, the best releases, hands down, of this type of music in a long while. While other members of the post-industrial genre are eating hors d’ourves at tony art openings, Reformed Faction are still very much working on the project they embarked upon nearly 35 years ago. Non-Academic, Anti-Conformist, Surrealistic, Anti-Art Establishment, Beautiful Music made by fragile and faulted Human Beings.
My one caveat on the album is this: Whereas if a person I knew who wasn’t into the darker side of ambient music asked me for a starting point, I would without hesitation hand them Reformed Faction : Until or Rapoon : Time Frost. While I whole-heartedly recommend this album to those who already enjoy this sort of music, I do see it as a little bit more ‘difficult listen’.
Perfect for late night thinking, long walks or curling up with a cup of Joe and a little bit of Magic Realism.