A Certain Ratio: Sextet – UK – [white] LP – 
- Knife Slits Water
- Say One
- Run Down
- Below The Canal
This was certainly an unexpected surprise. Sunday was my birthday, and on Saturday night, we invited our neighbors over to help us celebrate. The plan was Ethiopian takeout and ice cream cake. Due to the local dining bubble, takeout from a restaurant was not possible unless you got your order in at the time of opening. So we had to fall back on pizza. The other surprise was that my neighbors had decided to bring birthday gifts which had never entered into my mind at all. That ship has sailed years ago. Imagine my surprise when I was handed two recent LP pressings that were actually highly desirable.
On one hand, I am a difficult person to buy music for. I have thousands of [mostly] obscure releases to the bulk of humanity. My want list is 3-4K of titles at my Discogs account. However, my neighbor reads this blog, has fairly congruent tastes to mine, and did admirable research, because he chose some high value records. One was the just released “Cupid + Psyche ’85” Rough Trade LP with the immaculate high-pomp foil-stamped, embossed cover. The other was even better.
I reached into the bag to pull out an album by A Certain Ratio. I’ve gone on record as to clearly not owning enough of their captivating music. I own the original cassette of “From Brussels With Love” that has “Felch [Live @ Hurrah]” on it and the “Force” album on CD. Sadly lacking for one who deigns to call himself Post-Punk Monk! So I was already excited to have more ACR. Then I turned over the record and saw that this was the album with “Knife Slits Water” on it!
That was the track that first caught my ear in 2006-2007 when I was listening to Pandora for a year. So this was not just a random ACR album being gifted to me, which is rare and wonderful enough, right? This was the one with the sourcepoint of my abiding interest! The pressing was a late 2020 copy with an unusual monochrome sleeve variation and a white vinyl disc inside the pebble textured sleeve. Fortunately, there was also a DL in FLAC format we’ve since exported to the device and today we dove into the music.
“Lucinda” immediately caught my ears with deepthrob bass lines that sounded chorused for a fatter footprint while the rhythm guitar syncopated for a polyfunk feel. The eerie, deliberately flat and desensitized vocals by Martha Tilson were so thin and distant that they added a new wrinkle and significant dissonance to the Funk. Fully bringing it to the Post-Punk party of gloom.
The crashing wave foley effects that were the introduction to “Crystal” hardly set the listener up for the deeply Mancunian vocals of Simon Topping; sounding here not a million miles away from the Ian Curtis as he duetted with Ms. Tilson. The pair of them sounding like ghosts inhabiting the overcast seashore as the anxious, skittering percussion work and incongruous timbales were the furthest things from a party imaginable as it all ended with a vibraslap in the face and the sound of waves breaking.
The jagged horn riffs that pulsated through “Gum” were echoed by the frantic cuíca as hints of Brazilian Jazz were beginning to seep into the music. Ms. Tilson’s vocals were a little more full bodied in this track. The uptempo burst of energy on the instrumental break gave a spotlight to the syncopated bass riffs.
What sounded like eerie birdsong heralded the intoxicating “Knife Slits Water.” Ms. Tilson’s vocals were a flat as possible again, but it sounded like she had been run through an Eventide Harmonizer, as the little girl version of herself was the subtle echo fattening her vocal. The dub dropouts allowed the doubled beat to achieve a reverberant, pulsating kind of psychedelia. The sound of water draining down pipes was not the sort of accoutrements I was used to hearing in my music apart from The Associates; who had already investigated that earlier on their B-side, “Blue Soap.” The hypnotic, trance-like effect of the track accumulated over its seven and a half minutes. The slap bass and kalimba softened me up like a boxer while the delayed drumbeat beat like a heart fit to burst in a dub mix anxiety attack.
Sextet – where the BASS is the law…
Lucinda is far and away my favorite ACR song. It is a bass player tour de force. In its almost 4 minutes I am transported out of my reality and into some otherworld where the beat is everything from the pulse of life to a form of faith. All the other instruments and vocals are there to serve the whims, insistance and pronouncements of the bass.
Your description of Crystal is so very on point Monk! It is the sounds of the beach, an urban shoreline, in the dark when there is no moon or an obscured Moon. It is a hive of activity that is seemingly invisible but never stopping.
Gum is a further exploration of the ecstatic nature of rhythm and song. There is a real feel of Afro-Brazilian fervor throughout the track. It builds and builds, crashes down and builds again.
Knife Slits Water is just masterful. The album version is like an encyclopedia of Post Punk in seven and a half minutes. Knife Slits Water shows off the power of ACR as an ensemble of artists comfortable with what they know they can do and always ready to explore even more.
Echorich – And we always capitulate to the whims of the BASS god!
Happy belated birhday!
“On one hand, I am a difficult person to buy music for. I have thousands of [mostly] obscure releases to the bulk of humanity.”
Every time someoone new looks at my music they say, “wow you have a lot of music and i’ve never heard of any of these people.”
Viva le resistance.
Tim – …And that’s why we come here every day [mostly].