Dead Centre by Reigns

Release date: April 5, 2024
Label: Wrong Speed Records

Obviously, now that it’s here, you realise that deep down you’ve always known it was coming. Dead Centre arrives as an album length piece of music by Reigns accompanying the debut novel by Tim Farthing. A natural shift in emphasis towards the fictional tales of dread that have always informed the project. There’s a lot more words and looser musical structures but it’s clearly a continuation rather than a break with their previous work.

When I used to live in south London it was, for various reasons, impossible to entirely avoid the dark magnetism of Lewisham shopping centre. A joyless, ugly place that failed even at the base level of functionality you could somehow find yourself in there far longer than you imagined steadily becoming ever more flat and directionless. It was a grindingly bland assault on your humanity. Such was the abiding sense of soul injury brought on by prolonged exposure to the place I came to believe it was built upon a plague pit or subject to some other ancient curse. While not all indoor retail centres generate this disquiet it is common enough that I feel certain you will have encountered similar.

 

Dead Centre takes this mundane horror and runs with it into the world beyond the veil. I do not mean the stockroom. The book is great fun and while I can imagine revisiting it at some point I’ve already listened to the music multiple times. Although they come together both are quite able to stand on their own merits. Briefly, the book begins as a grim update of It’s A Wonderful Life. Our guide Kemp is a desperate wreck of a man overcome by his failures who attempts to end his life outside a shopping centre on Christmas Eve only to find himself the confused recipient of an encounter with the supernatural. What follows is more M R James than Jimmy Stewart.

The music is still very much the sort of subtly layered sonics you expect from Reigns but abandons song forms for a more widescreen soundscape. Where the words would previously have sat in the tracks as vocals or down tuned narration they have largely migrated to the page leaving a rolling and changing instrumental suite. The only vocal interjections are intercom announcements from the shops and the four rules intoned ominously to Kemp by the mysterious Tundale. There are also the usual diegetic sounds (traffic, water, shutters and others harder to place) but the music doesn’t feel overly illustrative of the text. The maddening prevalence of Xmas music on repeat, the carousel and the mysterious drones and pulses of sound within the book make only the most submerged appearances in the album.

The more you listen to it, the more is revealed. It is an impressively sustained feat of small detail, an increasingly rich tapestry that always seems to have new surprises tucked away in it. It was several listens before I really noticed the slow tolling of hell’s bells in the opening section which now seems obvious. While these elements are enhanced by having read the book there’s nothing that relies on it. Thus far I have avoided the obvious route of listening to it while wandering through a shopping centre for fear of the unconscious horrors doing so may call forth.

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