Review: It Only Gets Worse – Fireplace Road

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Label: Cloister Recordings

The latest from It Only Gets Worse – duo comprised of Matt Finney and Maurice de Jong (Gnaw Their Tongues) is the most accessible record the band have created to date; yet don’t let that descriptor fool you. “Accessible” only applies in relative terms, and this is still far removed from any conventional understanding of the term. The music might have a certain momentum to it at points, a kind of damaged dance edge that’s reminiscent of 90’s industrial rock, but it’s still heavy with negative emotion. It’s as weighed down by past pain and bad memories as anything Matt Finney has been involved in. The contrast between his bleak spoken word tales and the music results in something both graceful and deadly, as beautiful as it is uncomfortable, and hard to turn away from.

The nameless opening track does a good job of setting the scene, as such a track should do. Delicate, dark-jazz infused piano sits atop fragile strings and sparse, heavy beats – like Bohren & der Club of Gore with an even stronger dark ambient vibe – before ‘Jackson’ flips the record on its head. An industrial pulse and milk bottle rhythms that wouldn’t have sounded out of place on a 90’s KMFDM track or Nine Inch Nails remix, accompanied by a distant air-raid siren, get things underway. There’s an almost danceable edge to the minimalist opening, but that’s soon stripped away when Matt’s spoken word contributions kick in. That sense of movement returns later in the song, but it’s now changed; still graceful and beautiful, but now with an added sense of sorrow.

The following track, ‘Lee’, has a similar sense to it. Shoegaze-influenced shimmer cloaks the song with an ethereal quality, whilst industrial rhythms in the background – the kind that prompt movement and physical urges – keep the song moving forwards. The contrast between these two qualities – the reflective synths, the forever-forwards rhythms – result in a song that is pulling itself apart in the most agonizingly blissful of ways. To say that it’s uncomfortable would be an understatement; and yet no words can adequately describe its beauty.

Whilst previous releases from It Only Gets Worse have tended towards the minimalist and tender, and those aspects certainly form part of the sound of the new record, there’s something more full-on about Fireplace Road, with less of an ambient edge. It works to the music’s advantage; it takes some of the emphasis off the spoken word sections, and allows the music to carry a more overt emotional impact. The melodic line during the early section of ‘Ruth’ is a prime example of this, its wistful, haunting nature as moving as any words could be. It also has the effect of making those spoken word passages feel less like reflections, and more like something happening right now; an active narration of current events, rather than a witness statement. It’s a subtle change in dynamic, but one that has a big emotional impact.

Regardless of any changes though, Fireplace Road is still as uncomfortable as anything else these two musicians have been involved with. It is relatively short, at 23 minutes long, but such relative brevity is a blessing; much more, and Fireplace Road would have been too much to take in. It is a record that will make you sad, for sure; but with music this beautiful, that feels like a small price to pay.

Fireplace Road is available digitally via Bandcamp, and on cassette from Cloister Recordings.

 

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