Like some pre-electricity version of James Holden's The Inheritors, on Punish, Honey Gainsborough makes noise with his own crudely constructed instruments, which bang out even cruder compositions. They sound rusty and worn, and often rebel against Gainsborough, like he can't quite figure out how to play them (the sad gasps and limping rhythms of "Black Leaves And Fallen Branches," for example). It's hard to tell if the wheezing central figure on "Red Sex" is supposed to replicate a brass instrument or an accordion, and it doesn't matter. Cheaply homemade but also exotic, the track has a raunchiness that comes from the close physical contact of its instrumentation, no matter how weird it sounds. And as unnerving as Gainsborough's approach can be, especially the thrashing steampunk nightmare of "Kin To Coal," it can come off oddly elegant as well. The layered tapestries of "Euoi" harmonize with an almost angelic tint, beautiful enough to pad the scratchy drums that bang and scatter below.
Lengthy centrepiece "Anima" makes use of the same arsenal of bagpipe and hurdy gurdy-like instruments, and it has as much in common with the traditional music of the British Isles as it does the cosmic synth odysseys of the 1970s. But it's during the shuddering seismic meditation of "Anima" where you really realize the power and originality of Gainsborough's new approach—this is music that sounds spiritual, brutal, ancient and modern all at once. Gainsborough's is not exactly a new idea—you could find the same clattering metal rhythms in the discography of Prostitutes or Cut Hands, to name but two—but it's his vision that makes it all so impressive, especially when you put it next to Order Of Noise. Where that record was fragmented, representing the oppressive limitlessness of making music with a computer, the rudimentary Punish, Honey is succinct and powerful, the sound of Gainsborough's sweaty, blistered hands at work. Back in 2012, I wrote that Order Of Noise was one of the year's best techno records without really being techno. Now, in 2014, Vessel has given us one of the year's best electronic music albums, and it's hardly electronic.