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Psychic TV - Hell is Invisible...Heaven is Here

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Artist: Psychic TV

Album: Hell is Invisible...Heaven is Here

Label: Cargo

Review date: Aug. 8, 2007

Psychic TV, the genre (and gender) bending musical conundrum headed by Genesis P-Orridge, was on hiatus for nearly a decade, starting in the mid-1990s through a couple of years ago. That's a long time, for the band that holds the current Guinness Book of Records notch for most albums recorded (14 in 18 months!), but it doesn't seem to have done the band much harm. Hell Is Invisible...Heaven Is Here has more than a whiff of the past about it – clanking post-punk bass lines, rave-kid hedonistic choruses, new wave Cure-ified keyboards, fey gothic horrors and world-y fusion – but it also exists quite vehemently in the here and now.

P-Orridge, in his long career, has been gleefully all over the map, from his early days with industrial forefathers Throbbing Gristle, through his multi-media experiments to his brief reign as an oddball pop star (with 1986's "Godstar"). He invented the term "acid house" in 1988, and became a fixture in the London rave scene of the late-1980s and early 1990s. But then in the middle of the last decade, he tired of it all and left music to focus on his spoken word projects. It was only with the strong and steady persuasion of ex-Toilet Boys drummer Edward ODowd that P-Orridge began to consider reviving Psychic TV. The core group – P-Orridge, Persson, ODowd, David Maxxx and Alice Genese – began performing in late 2003 and recorded this material in 2005 and 2006.

The new songs are strong and varied, tracing a sort of loosely defined story arc about death and resurrection. "Higher and Higher" starts with the dissolution of the body, lyrics like "Depraved, corrupted, deflated, inducted…worms crawl and worms fall," snaking around a harsh, metallic post-punk groove. Yet despite its rather dark lyrical content (besides the worms, there are rotten cadavers and demons carving bodies with knives), the cut has a decadent, dance-like feel. Your feet twitch, your hips move, a strobe-lit disco-ball would not be at all amiss.

With "In Thee Body," things turn even darker, the cut opening with echoing wind tunnel blasts, howling dogs and ominous spoken word. ("In this barren land / men become dogs / dogs become wolves.") There is still a clangorous rhythm at the bottom of the track, but it is muted by hazy clouds of drone and noise; it’s like Gang of Four through the last shreds of a waking nightmare. With "Maximum Swing," a still more frightening element enters the picture. The Butthole Surfers' Gibby Hanes growls and mutters over a tribal drum line, with vast swathes of distorted guitar drifting by, unanchored. It is primitive, threatening, hallucinogenic, and yet somehow physically enticing. You can lose yourself in the beat, throw your hands up to the falsetto "Whoo-ooos,” but there's danger in the crevices. Later, the long "Hookah Chalice" has the same sort of mesmerizing allure, insistent rhythms, drone and harsh clatter coalescing into a body-moving whole.

Not that P-Orridge isn't capable of the odd moment of beauty. The ballad "New York Story" reminds you where Califone’s Tim Rutili found the prettiest song on his last album; the cut is as liquidly clear and simple as "The Orchids." Vocals are reverb’d to an unearthly polish and drenched in cynicism: “Life is a vacuum pump / always sucking me dry." It is so lovely that you float right over shocking imagery. ("Your body is so cold / It's turning blue / You look so cold / Not human anymore.")

The second half of the album consists mostly of longer tracks, songs that are interrupted mid-cut by a firestorm of seemingly unrelated noise. For instance, "I Don't Think So" seems almost embarrassingly stripped and personal with its wavering keyboard line and slow clank of rhythm –a creepily vulnerable Syd Barret. It is broken in the middle by a howl and barrage of drumming, all distorted, ugly sounds that rip through the child-like melody and then, just as suddenly, subside. This happens again in "Hookah Chalice," as mad strings and echoing feedback create a separate, more chaotic space within what has, up to then, been a fairly accessible cut.

Not all the cuts fit easily into a death, dissolution, redemption and revelation storyline, but the album clearly progresses from darkness to light. Redemption comes in the last two cuts, the wah-wah laced "BB" with its orgiastic hymns to Pandrogeny, and the luminous, folk-blues-raga tinged meanderings of "Milk Baba." This last cut is bodiless, beatless, absolutely rooted in the spirit rather than the body. It feels like an end, its samples of children's voices melting into hanging guitar notes, the light streaming through both tone and silence. It's lovely, timeless and utterly set off by the chaotic sensuality that's preceded it, a sort of coda to P-Orridge's own imagining of the Divine Comedy.

By Jennifer Kelly

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