. issue XXIV : ii .
. artist : cul de sac .
. album : immortality lessons .
. year : 2002 .
. label : strange attractors audio house .
. grade : b plus .
Artisanal neo-psychedelic group Cul de Sac has been around since 1990, and they know what they’re about. A composer’s art-rock band, Cul de Sac make music various in genre, steadfast in ambition and boundless in scope. Immortality Lessons is an hour-long tape from a live show at a radio station in 1998, and you’ve never heard anything more “live.” More than any song, musician’s good-day or other unit of performative success, it’s the powerful aura exuded palpably, the made-manifest supersaturated creative presence, the pregnant evocation of outward facing energy that fastens the listener on Immortality Lessons and submerses them.
Audible are the concrete paraphernalia of the stage, preparatory rustles and the pre-emptive clack of drumstick, but also audible are the nerves and the sweat and the physical momentum — the theatricality of “the moment” of embarkation. It’s stunning how the listener can feel Cul de Sac start to turn on the same cog.
As the centerpiece, the Middle Eastern-influenced guitar of Glenn Jones leads the way through tantalizing, meandering, seductive soundscapes with a directed charisma like an animal stalking its prey, but it’s the nuance of Jon Proudman on drums is what makes the emergent nature of the album so evident. There’s a fragility to his playing by which you can tell that Cul de Sac are on the move, expanding, and fighting the urge for any sort of completeness.
It’s hard to tell what’s the band pulling back to regroup and what’s an especially minimal composition; however, one does have the sense that everything Cul de Sac does emerges from this space of tomfoolery, collective resolution and chemistry, and that means that there’s no difference between the two. Large swathes of songs will pass without a coherent pattern … until suddenly they lock into it. As a result, we have the impression that the album breathes, and that it’s something emergent — struggle, group, fall apart, regroup.
But this meandering is nothing less than totally engaging, and so it is that Cul de Sac presents one of the clearest visions of creative cohesion which also happens to instantiate much confusion and dislocation. As a sonic parallel, there’s plenty of sympathetic accord — Immortality Lessons is an exemplar — but also weird discordant incidents that are folded back in or vindicated by a later completion (for example, Robin Amos’ keyboard seizure in the title track).
Immortality Lessons sure doesn’t feel like an hour. I wouldn’t say we’re having fun, precisely; it’s the experience of hanging on someone’s words, of disembodiment, of immersion, of tethered to. It’s refreshing to find music so compelling.
I’m new to Cul de Sac, and apparently they’ve done a lot better than this, so I can’t wait to go back and see what I’m missing. But I also love how understated a non sequitur this is, how you’re not sure where it came from or what it’s supposed to do or if it’s successful. It just exists.