Birds Catching Fire In The Sky by UKAEA

Release date: January 19, 2024
Label: state51 records

I’ve been listening to UKAEA for quite a long time but, in the same way that one listens to Shpongle, Ott., Gum Takes Tooth or Ozric Tentacles. A way that looks bestially to the pack, in the face of a deep, enshrouding jungle. Not to follow a leader, but to cling to the lost and damned in a frenzied hunt for the primeval. I’m not looking for someone who knows the way to go, or even how to overcome the daunting depths of an impending psychonautic nosedive. But, rather an indulgent call and response with adrenaline junkies bold enough to see the fear as part of the fun; crazed enough that the everyday just doesn’t sit right with ‘em. Sick enough that the medication doesn’t heal ‘em and the drugs don’t subdue ‘em, merely bring them to life. I don’t know the songs by name, I just know that I trust them to ride with me into the void, once more into the breach, in another failed attempt to feel at home for more than a single evening. Stare with me lobotomised at the sun in rapid eye movement, let’s listen to Birds Catching Fire in The Sky.

Abstract:

Happy fucking new year, it’s 2024, maybe this year I’ll have something to say about what albums might comprise an annual roundup. Habibiopens the album in cursed vaudevillian fashion oozing straight out of the abyss of some time travelling ketamine-soaked 1920s pavilion. We came for the clowns but, stayed for the freak show. How does one-begin to try and describe what is hallucination and what is audio? What is Agathe Max playing a violin and what is UKAEA editor-in-mischief Dan Jones’ electronic arsenal? I’ve learnt not to trust UKAEA’s music, don’t take anything as a given. I don’t know if it intends to be thought-provoking or if there’s just something about listening to music that feels like someone slamming Garys, peeling their eyelids back and juggling blades that makes me wonder what it all means? I’m going to attempt to dissect this track but, I feel like it’s always best to display the kill before you carve the entrails: I think the delayed synth(?) that introduces the listener to the track at the start does really well, to aurally represent trailing and visual echoes, it feels like hearing a blur or trying to reconcile deja vu. There’s a ghostly ephemerality to the sound but, it’s unmistakably narcotic. That’s how straight off the bat, we know, this is gonna be a dirty track. It may nod at the psychonauts I discussed in the opening paragraph but, it’s falling arse-over-tit into Gabba land. There’s beats that sound like if Pretty Hate Machine was ugly and a vocal sample that I would describe as “Siouxsie Sioux if she k-holed whilst listening to Dead Can Dance”. Agate Max’s violin acts in places as an infrequent balm on a track that is largely pulverising, offering melody as consolation and reassurance to the listener in an otherwise daunting landscape of sonic battery.

‘La Stessa Croce’ enters the album nicely, at least from a sequencing point of view. It very much feels like Birds Catching Fire In The Sky is a decidedly nocturnal album. It’s here for the peak as much as it is for the come-up but, more importantly, it seems to be here for the people who were looking for a scenario in which they felt out of their depth, out of control and out of their fucking minds. The busy rhythms, brain-tinglingly rich production and piercing screams on the track command attention through shear weight of presence. I get the sense watching this band, that this is as much something happening to them, as it is a situation they’re creating. What came first: getting mangled and listening to deranged electronic music or getting mangled and creating deranged electronic music? Is this what Dan Jones does to find equilibrium in the maelstrom or is he rather conducting the chaos? Maybe it’s just an excuse to have control of the aux, if you want a job done right you gotta do it yourself. This music is amongst the most antithetical I am aware of to anything I would perceive as being remotely commercial. Not because it doesn’t have mass appeal but, rather because it only appeals to anyone who wants to enjoy a deep, punch-drunk soak in the psychic warfare that is UKAEA. I’m reminded of a scene from the hit film Eternal Sunshine of The Spotless Mind in which the process of a memory-erasing procedure is described as being akin to a night of heavy drinking, in terms of how much brain damage it will cause. UKAEA fulfils a similar role, acting as both cure and disease, hair of the dog. Vulture mentality. Car crash amphitheatre. A demolition derby of yellow Mitsubishis, speed working it’s way through the slow burn of monotony. Routine becomes beguiling in a carousel of noise. The prosaic different every day. Life’s constant ostinato driving through raga into new levels of reduced listening; each repetition of the cycle more beguiling through an ever changing lens of perception. The trick is not to let it catch up with you.

Ostranenie.

Some sort of reprieve is found in ‘Dar El Fouad’.I feel like the opening of this track is somewhat reminiscent of something out of Gnod’s Infinity Machines with its transcendental percussion (presumably, one Charly Blackburn’s ceramics) and off-kilter melody. Max’s violin somewhere between A Silver Mt.Zion and Stars of The Lid but, in marvellous requiem. The strings weep gracefully, as though dancing through sorrow. Smiling with a tear glinting in one eye, but who can discern whether it is blissfully ignorant or ignorant of bliss. Deyar Yasin contributes magnificent vocals on this track, probably my favourite vocals on the whole album. The vocal melody builds a web of intricate emotional layers, the entire tracks feels grounded in a roaming state of being. When Dan Jones finally takes the forefront with the electronics, heavily processing every other contribution into cybernetic rapture the whiplash is equal parts disorientating and enthralling. It sounds like someone setting a computer on fire…and I like that.

Part II:

When ‘Nocturne Vulgaire’ enters the album somewhere around the middle, it feels like the New River Big Band grab the album by the scruff of the neck and plunge it into uncharted waters. Suddenly, this extraterrestrial album begins to feel a little more tangible. The bassline sounds like something out of The Matrix, the drums roll with tribal swagger and Marion Andrau oozes into the album with vocals that start as hypnotic, crooning expeditions but, slowly transform into spoken word, delicate melody and gentle intonations. It feels like things are picking up again before, it even happens, I can sense that things are going to start getting wackier. ‘Rabbia’ confirms this theory. I don’t even know how to fucking start describing it. It sounds like if a mermaid made out of glass and diamonds crawled onto the shore to harvest the carbon from my fifteen year old self after too many bong hits. It’s like trying to converse with the magical machine elves at the epicentre of a DMT voyage. Or stepping out of time but, hearing the atoms that compromise the hourglass, moving at an alarming rate like entropy in crescendo, right where it matters. ‘Vulnera’ is what I think UKAEA seems like to a new-inductee. Completely fucking cursed. There’s an Aphex Twin-esque atonality to the the track that makes it really compelling. Something about the way it sounds make it feel alien and in that estrangement the track becomes singular. Part of what makes UKAEA such an excellent project is that the discography is packed with really unique sounding music, that whilst subjectively excellent is also objectively, uncommon. Who better to give your time to than someone who will reward it with an experience you cannot receive from anyone else?

Paint the night crimson with blue tongues and machine hearts, every electrical part of me craving robotic sounds and science fiction, a reality based in logic. A fantasy based in daring. Nothing seems real and the cycle begins again. Birds Catching Fire In The Sky. Chaos. Sensationalism. Energy. Entropy. When you’re rewiring the machine, take UKAEA with you.

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