Given that title, Labour Division, you might imagine this British duo's debut album to be a purely functional set of muscle-flexing techno. Ten precise, machine-tooled, mechanised, dehumanised dance floor bombs. Nothing could be further from the truth. Yes, industrial's long shadow looms over this release. Rhythmically, tonally, there are times when it inevitably brings to mind that iconic image of early '80s EBM: stern, muscular young men in tight vests beating girders with big hammers.
Labour Division succeeds as an album, however, not because Al "Smear" Matthews and Patrick Walker know how to drive you over the edge at 5 AM. No, it works because, in the pounding piston-funk of "Nihil Novi," as much as in the droning, gloaming ambience of "Fading Centres," this is an album of audible soul music. It is hard, but it has heart.
FSG revel in pure sound, of course. This is chewy music steeped in Pole-esque levels of crackle, hiss and decay. But that carefully created patina always has an honest purpose. It never becomes a cerebral exercise. When Matthews and Walker dive into dub techno's warm gaseous depths it does not sound like a hackneyed device. It sounds freshly poignant. These are two blokes focused, you sense, not on technique or function for its own sake, but ultimately on how, by fine-tuning a snare sound, you can evoke all manner of human emotion.
Granted, non-believers are unlikely to reach that revelation. To them, Labour Division will sound like any number of techno records they might hear this year: bleak, grey music trapped, sonically and psychologically, in some rank concrete basement. Ostensibly, they're right. FSG make fellow travellers such as DVS1 and Peter Van Hoesen sound positively frivolous. But listen, and from that unpromising tight corner, huddled in that crumbling nook with only Nitzer Ebb and the toughest Ostgut Ton releases for company, FSG illustrate just how vivid and varied, how contagiously energetic life can be in those dark recesses.
"Mandate," for one, is beautifully, breathlessly oppressive; an oxygen-starved track to fuel a thousand Berghain sub-dom fantasies. In its unrelenting pneumatic intensity, "Elegant Mistakes" evokes something of the almost religious austerity of Photek's best work. "Industry & Empire," meanwhile, is straight out of the queasy Andy Stott school. Even the album's weaker moments—cute, melodic darkwave opener, "Ident," or the closing track, "Cultivah," a distinctly rocky post-punk outburst that wouldn't sound out of place in Trent Reznor's back catalogue—twist familiar ideas into interesting new shapes. Perhaps, ultimately, FSG aren't quite as powerfully angry as their label boss, Perc, nor as monumental as Shed. But they deserve to be filed alongside either.
Buy Forward Strategy Group - Labour Division at
Tracklist: Forward Strategy Group - Labour Division 01. Ident
03. Elegant Mistakes
04. Industry & Empire
05. Labour Division
06. Fading Centres
07. Nihil Novi
08. Metal Image
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