here might be too much brain in Simon Bookish’s voice. The nom de recording for London performance artist/musician Leo Chadburn, Bookish makes steely electronic music that often manages to sound like you’ve opened the door to every subconscious desire and guilt at once—all reminding you in unison how you’ve failed them. In fact, if Patrick Wolf is looking for a doppelganger, I’d suggest he look Chadburn up. Of course there are beats too, and cranky synthscapes sworls that remind at times of a more industrial early Human League. All of which makes Unfair/Funfair an often unsettling but consistently intriguing debut album.
Many of you will be familiar with Bookish for his remixes of Franz Ferdinand’s “Michael” and his wondrously confused reworking of Grizzly Bear’s “Eavesdropping.” Along with his “Metal Horse” seven-inch on Tomlab, that’s about all there is to this shadowy Londoner. Unfair/Funfair was repeatedly delayed and bandied about before finally landing on the obscure London label, Use Your Teeth. But it was worth the wait for those willing to work for your pleasures.
Enough of these RIYLs and biographical minutiae: There’s odd, challenging antipop experimentalism beneath the artist-info. “Fantastic Piss Experiment” is an ideal starting point for our discussion in fact, starting with pummeling analogue work and industrial tones. Bookish’s drawl is at once direct but misleading as he chants out directions and demands to the listener. “London Bunker” mangles static and noise into a cacophonous chatter about fear and genocide, showing Chadburn’s more academic side as he dabbles with musique concrete (Chadburn studied baroque music and performance art at Guildhall School of Music). At a point, you have to decide which to follow—his voice or his massive backdrop—or it’s all too overwhelming, but in the ultimately persuasive manner of the most trying music.
Elsewhere, Bookish mixes his odd sense of humor with historical scrutiny. “O Guillotine” swizzles into a discordant ode to the inventor of the title-tool, while “Richard of York” retraces York’s failed warring above a jarring electronic drunk. In a moment of gorgeous reinvention, Bookish takes the latter from sharp chaos into a soaring synth bridge, as though he’s somehow decided to hover over and beyond the battle scenery into the soothe of war’s end.
Closing with “Introducing. . .Elektra Therapy”’s pulsating industrial-tech, Unfair/Funfair may well mark the opening salvo of an artist worth watching. This isn’t music of complement, something you put on with the Sunday Times or in the dim chatter of candlelight. Bookish is obtuse and shrill, often in all the wrong places, but there’s so much happening beneath his growling synthscapes or his off-key clamoring that you can’t help feeling you’ve missed everything o f import. Repeat listens won’t necessarily fill in the holes; they may actually widen them, but with most of my Stylus colleagues and our readership still stranded on meta-pop, maybe it’s time for a little dismay.