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Human Don’t Be Angry - Human Don’t Be Angry

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Artist: Human Don’t Be Angry

Album: Human Don’t Be Angry

Label: Chemikal Underground

Review date: May. 24, 2012

In Arab Strap and in the five solo albums since, Malcolm Middleton has always sounded like a man squinting into unexpected daylight, grasping for a cigarette and piecing together the unfortunate (but never, it sounds like, entirely unexpected) events of the night before. He is disconsolate in the way that romantics often are, but without much real rancor. To listen to Malcolm Middleton is to recognize and be forgiven for all the ways that human beings fall short with each other.

Human Don’t Be Angry, then, is an odd departure, mostly downplaying Middleton’s frayed-edge tenor, his dead reckoning of human weakness (including his own) and the surprising warmth and humane-ness that has, in the past, lifted the weight of negativity. Instead, we get a primarily instrumental, loop-based collection of tracks, built out of bright, clear electronic elements – keyboards, drum machines, synths – and layered in intricate, repetitive patterns. The more lyrical elements of Kraut (bands like Cluster and Tangerine Dream) seem to be prime influences, though certain passages sound like subdued Mogwai and others (especially the ones with xylophone) like Tortoise.

Middleton took the name of his new band, its first album and one of the tracks from a turn-of-the-century German board game. It’s the phrase, I think, that caught his attention. Middleton learned about “Human Don’t Be Angry” when he himself was at an impasse with his music, looking, as he says in “First Person Singular: Present Tense” for an exit. After a couple of decades as indie’s poster boy for misery, he was trying to be less angry, less negative, less downbeat with this album. He did it mostly by cutting out the vocals.

So the album starts with one of its airiest, most optimistic intervals, the entirely instrumental “Missing Plutonium.” High, bell-clear keyboards interlace with the thwack and thump of drum machines, a bubble of hope caught in the upward climbing melody. There is an unconflicted, uncomplicated joy in this track which has been entirely missing from Middleton’s work, and it’s not a bad thing at all. Later, “1985,” with its abstract, criss-crossing, non-verbal “ah”-ing descants, has the same uplift, but in a complicated way that recalls post-rock, post-jazz outfits like Au and All Tiny Creatures.

Later in the CD, Middleton makes room for his own voice, and there’s something very powerful in the way his rough, organic morose-ness combines with the bright glow of electronic instruments. “First Person Singular: Present Tense,” “Monologue: River” and “Askilipio” – the three tracks with vocals – are the album’s strongest, as well as its roughest and most propulsive.

These tracks with vocals also seem the most like Middleton, at least the Middleton we’ve come to know. No one but he could pull off the doomed romance of “Askilipio” so well, turning a threat to fingers, toes and other extremities into a twisted declaration of devotion. “I’m coming your way with an attack on your finger / I’m coming your way with a second front to your toe,” he sings in a fug of mournful, whiskey and smoke, “and don’t think that by the end of today, you’ll have any digit free, I propose you hand yourself over to me.” It’s the most powerful passage on the record, the one where Middleton does get angry and becomes all the more human for it.

By Jennifer Kelly

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