Record Review: Wrangler – LA Spark

Wrangler - captured on surveillance video

Wrangler – captured on surveillance video

As I had mentioned earlier, Wrangler’s debut album was a prime piece of merch that I was especially looking for while shopping the Amoeba stores in California last year. It was released in the Summer and by Fall, this was one of my most-wanted releases. Naturally, given the title, it fell to Amoeba Hollywood to actually stock the thing, and the project has been in what passed for heavy airplay during the long season of Simple Minds listening that we just emerged from.

As I’ve been a highly avid fan of both John Foxx + The Maths as well as their remix work for other acts, I felt that this collaboration between Ben [Benge] Edwards, Tom Winter, and most importantly, Stephen [Cabaret Voltaire] Mallinder would be quite the thing. Mallinder’s re-emergence from semi-retirement in the last few years has been a cause celebre with me, and the hints of Cab Volt that have seeped into The Maths music over time have delighted me greatly. After Billie Ray Martin’s “Crackdown Project” got him back in the game, this was the next step; a full album with Mallinder’s participation. With Benge in the producer’s chair, I knew that it would be an orgy of analog synth technology that would probably be very different from the work with The Maths.

MemeTune | UK  | CD | MEME14CD01

MemeTune | UK | CD | MEME14CD01

Wrangler: LA Spark UK CD [2014]

  1. Theme From Wrangler
  2. Lava Land
  3. LA Spark
  4. Mus IIC
  5. Space Ace
  6. Harder
  7. Modern World
  8. Peace + Love [edit]

“Theme From Wrangler” cut a jagged path that was hitting me very well from the very first. The rhythm boxes clanked away as burbles, bleeps, and drones bubbled up through the electronic miasma. When Mallinder made his vocal appearance halfway through the cut, I was shocked to hear him quoting lyrics from “Nag Nag Nag” in the chorus. At least, that’s what it sounded like. This album, it would be seem, was all about treating his vocals as another element in the bare bones mix. Not unlike the original “Nag Nag Nag.” The landscape was shot through with great slabs of surging and hissing synths seemingly cut from the same cloth that informed “Stationtostation” and “Trans Europe Express.”

“Lava Land” was an example of motorik malevolence. Mallinder’s vocals here were split into two voices: one pitched higher and insinuating with the other a distorted ogre rumbling. The resulting track has a viciousness I’ve not heard since the Rough Trade days of Cabaret Voltaire. When Mallinder intones “Burn, Babylon, burn!” it definitely has the emotional heft such a statement needs to get across! In contrast, the title track has a laid back, loping groove with the synth loops ambling forward in a decidedly funky style.

The far perimeter of the Wrangler comfort zone came with “Mus IIc,” wherein the loops and vocal phonemes barely coalesce into what the title implies. Mallinder’s voice saying “music” has been chopped and processed into what sounds like “mus-i-ic;” hence the title. The [I’m guessing] Buchla loops create a dissipated groove, where there are only a few points of rhythmic synch occurring in the music bed. The net effect recalls the later, more abstract Cab Volt period of “Body + Soul” which is where Mallinder was soon written out of the script. Cab Volt without Mal adding the human touch, passed right by me, and I divested myself of “Plasticity,” which was, in effect, a Richard Kirk solo project.

What would be “side two” got underway with the extremely funky stomp of “Space Ace” which was the cut here that most strongly evoked the glorious mid-period Cab Volt electro-funk monster we all know and love. It actually has discernible drum programming on it! For the most part, most rhythms on these songs were triggered by loops with modular units. Then the heat got turned up for the driving “Harder” which attained an EBM fever with a remaining funky underpinning for the bass loops. This was the longest track on the program [6:08] and it was definitely built for the dancefloor.

The looped acid funk of “Modern World” was so percussive that it attained an almost Latinesque feel with the drum programming creating a web of percussive force with the chirping synths sounding like a group of cicadas joining in the fun. The closing “Peace + Love [edit]” sounds like anything but as the disquieting instro invokes all of the unease of Rough Trade Cab Volt with no concessions toward the comfort that they later found in dance rhythms. This one is all about the anxiety that Mallinder was expert in trading in during the early days of Cab Volt.

So yes, this project very definitely evokes previous Cabaret Voltaire eras expertly without resorting to indentikit pastiche. I fully expected that with Benge involved, but having known that he was a fan of the group, I expected that he would be trying to fly close enough to the Cab Volt black hole without getting sucked in, and this album delivers on that expectation in spades. To keep it fascinating throughout its 39 minute length, the decision was made to touch on a wide variety of the CV sonic spectrum; the Rough Trade era, The Some Bizzare era, and even the Crepuscule era, but [wisely] not the EMI era. The day I hear Mallinder evoke Chicago House again would only be too soon for these ears. More of this, please!

– 30 –


About postpunkmonk

graphic design | software UI design | remastering vinyl • record collector • satire • non-fiction
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2 Responses to Record Review: Wrangler – LA Spark

  1. Echorich says:

    This is such a great album. It’s one you can really listen to. Things go on musically and vocally that are surprising and even sometimes disturbing. There’s a real modern take on Post Punk Electronic and Motorik styles that Benge really respects and Mallinder sounds completely engaged.
    So good to see you are able to get caught up on some of last year’s best music Monk – without more years passing by. Ameoba served you well!


    • postpunkmonk says:

      Echorich – The joy of this is that it treads on Cab Volt territory, but Benge is nothing like Richard Kirk in his approach, being the analog purist that he is. If Kirk were making this record it would have been all done on computer and the analog approach just sounds richer. Quite frankly, I think Benge achieves sounds with his vintage gear that Kirk may have been trying for but probably never had the budget for!


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