Free Time/Dead Time by Left Hand Cuts off the Right

Release date: April 21, 2023
Label: Brachliegen Tapes

How’s that late stage capitalism going for you? Are you finding a decent work/life balance these days? Frolicking in the lush green fields of a better future or just dragging your weary bones to the end of another grey migraine of a day? Working from home during the lockdowns, Robbie Judkins got to thinking about the slow colonisation of our leisure by the demands of capital in a hyper connected world. These meditations inform Free Time/Dead Time, the latest from his long running Left Hand Cuts Off The Right project.

Across seven pieces mixing composition and improvisation Judkins conjures an uncertain and uneasy mental space from slurring drones, field recordings and the distinctive clank and jangle of zither strings. It drifts in, surrounding you before you really notice it, ‘Right Kind Of Personality’ turning up a mid-range wooze filled with hissing static and incidental clicks. Its title nudges the queasy undertow of office culture, do you ‘fit in’ here? Probably not but now you’re trapped. ‘Unfortunately’ starts with harsh blows of fuzz bass and metal clank that stagger around in irregular patterns kicking up a soft chiming cloud like a choir of dreaming clocks. As it trudges on it becomes simultaneously pretty and discomforting, its broken rhythm neither human or machine, but surely in its death throes.  

The main mood is interior, not the heavy factory clang of industrial sound, it’s more fluid, the busy and unknowable hum of office cubicles or light industry at night. A work space behind glass, empty and yet claustrophobic. ‘We’re a Team’ returns us to that needling obligation of work speak, hanging over into free time, shadowing your journey home. Buried in the centre of the track a modem squeals, a forgotten herald of a brave new world in which you can never clock out. The cacophonous layers and discordant sawing strings of ‘Struggle Against Boredom’ are like the buzzing of the hive mind construction site.


The two title tracks are both longer and, to a degree, calmer than the rest of the record. What could be relaxing drones beset by background noise, restless activity down the hall, in the back of the mind. In ‘Free Time’ a string drone finds a darker, softer space before the haunted clockwork picks up the trail. The low drone of ‘Dead Time’ is like an empty building at night, the buzz and whirr of electricity magnified in all the stillness, somewhere the forgotten squeak of the wheel that never gets the grease, essential but invisible.  

Tim Hecker described his recent No Highs album as opposed to “the deluge of false positive capitalist ambient currently in vogue” and I think we can place Free Time/Dead Time alongside it in terms of attempting to address the psychological landscape, although the results are naturally quite different in sound. That the composed and improvised sections here are so completely entwined is perhaps a neat reflection of the way work invades the inner life but this is not a didactic or overly illustrative project, more a set of minimal meditations. It’s not a particularly soothing listen but it is richly layered and perhaps the most fully realised Left Hand Cuts Off The Right release so far.


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