There are a lot of similarities between Factory Records and Cue Dot Records. There’s the DIY attitude, northern in spirit, which overcomes hurdles and obstacles to put out great music. That drive in both cases stems from an endless intellectual curiosity and a passion for art; not just for art, but for art that is accessible and meaningful to people. There are the aesthetic details, the cover art and the design and the very real sense that those things mean just as much as the music, that they form part of the complete package. There is also the freedom, artistic freedom of course. It’s a concept that lots of record labels, publishing houses, film studios etc like to talk about but not many actually deliver on it; the idea that the artist is free to create what they want without interference or endless meetings about commercial viability.
So despite being unexpected it made some sense when it was announced there was a connection with Factory Records on the next Cue Dot Series release. Alan Hempsall was frontman of the Factory band Crispy Ambulance, who released a couple of underrated post-punk albums with Factory in the early 1980s. I won’t recount that history in this review, although I will recommend some reading here to get an interesting account of the band and their history.
Hempsall and electronic musician and soundscape artist Dave Clarkson make up Scissorgun, and their album Psychological Colouring Book is number 010 in the Cue Dot Series. It is a little different to previous releases, though Cue Dot still feels like a very natural home for this record. There are more lyrics on this record than on any previous Cue Dot release (apart from 003 which was a record of short stories over electronic soundscapes). But comparisons to other Cue Dot releases probably miss the point somewhat. As a record it speaks for itself, diverse in mood, eclectic in terms of sound, intelligent and unpredictable.
Opener The Grind feels like it’s been touched by Richard H Kirk. Glitchy beat, cosmic interference, sheet metal groove, filthy guitar licks. It closes with a haunting whistled tune drifting in over the top of the ripping synth and motor beat, its power only heightened by a funky noir sign off right at the end. The depth and mix of sounds and styles on this track alone gives you a taste of what the album is going to be like. Deep Six Your Wristwatch is an uncanny track full of strange beeps, bleeps and gonks. There are chiming clocks and unnerving shuffles, as if you’re in a room and not quite alone. The incredibly strange vibe is moreish though, you find yourself wanting more and wanting to go deeper. And deeper it goes. The Tandamy Man and later track Sybarite both have a feel of The Prodigy about them, though taken out of the 90s. The guitar effects lucidly demonstrate the musicianship contained on this record, and that can sometimes get lost in amongst the dense designs and structures of some of these songs. That isn’t a criticism, merely a warning – you have to be prepared to dive deep into this record to get the most out of it.
Tangie Biscotti has a pulsating techno drive, vocals that could easily be taken from the 80s, shredding guitar lines, bubbling synths and the feeling of flying towards the future, whilst maybe taking a couple of artefacts from the past with you. Psychological Colouring Book as an album plays that trick on you quite often. You think you’re hearing obvious influences that can be pinpointed to a certain era but then the music changes, shifts, transforms, and you’re no longer sure. All of a sudden it sounds new or timeless. Significant Gesture impacts the listener in a similar way. An African influence? Cosmic-swamp Dr John? Demented Doll By Doll? Red Mecca style electronics? Something utterly new? Perhaps there is a bit of everything just mentioned contained within the track. Alternatively, another listener may hear something completely different. That is part of the charm of this record; its diversity is its strength. Hempsall describes wanting a variety or spectrum of moods on the album and getting ‘an album of our favourite things.’
Honeymoon Guy doesn’t feel much like a honeymoon, with its trippy beat and distant, echoic vocals. It’s an impressionistic piece, with bells or glockenspiel adding to the slightly unnerving vibe. Wheels Turn is an up-tempo, off-kilter glitchy electronica track studded with subtle sound recordings, buried vocal whisperings and other darkly enticing effects.
Final track Histories Yet To Be Revealed is perhaps the most intriguing song on the record. It’s a comedown of sorts but not in the modern chillwave style. On different listens this one has spoken to me in different ways. At times it feels like a cold-light-of-day party is over type of track, a conventional way to end an album that is so full of unorthodox soundscapes. At other times it feels like the beginnings of something, that rarest of things in art when the end is merely the start, the opening of another door or the turning of a page to a new and unexpected chapter. This is Alan Hempsall and Dave Clarkson riding off into a celestial sunset, explorers, seekers, creators. They’ve given us this operatic industrial soundscape to discover and to inhabit and now they must leave, onwards to nobody knows where, but you suspect it isn’t the last we have heard of Scissorgun, and on the basis of Psychological Colouring Book, I certainly hope it isn’t.
Psychological Colouring Book is a kaleidoscopic, pulsating chunk of psychedelic electronica, experimental at heart with some rock sensibilities. The myriad influences, the range of vibes from euphoric to dystopian, the vast sound palate – it is difficult to do justice to everything that is going on within this record in a written review. The only way to truly experience this album is to press play, with the volume up, and to immerse yourself. Godspeed.
Scissorgun – Psychological Colouring Book is out 28th October 2021 on Cue Dot Records.