Smokey and dark, shattered in pieces, clanging. Droning a floor of noise. Somehwere in there, a repetition putting order to the disquiet of days among conference calls. Modern music some say in a maze of digits. Different for me in an elastic mind way. For 2014 it makes distant sense and so I agree with its use of rhythms from the broken alarm that keeps its midnight song alive to press 1 to enter.
From The Quietus:
Punish, Honey. Pain, pleasure. The comma in the title of Vessel's second album denoting some correspondence rather than opposition between the two. On the album's cover, writhing marmorated bodies are locked in the throes of what could equally be ecstasy or agony. In Three Essays On The Theory Of Sexuality, Freud hypothesised that those seemingly conflicting sensations might be interrelated. "Anyone who takes pleasure in causing others pain in a sexual relationship is also capable of enjoying as pleasure the pain that can arise from his own sexual relations," he concludes in a section addressing sadism and masochism. It's this slippage between pain and pleasure which informs not just the imagery of Punish, Honey but also its sonics.
Seb Gainsborough's own definition of Vessel as "physical music to be played loud on sound systems", has similarly framed his work in terms of bodily experience. His debut, Order Of Noise, released in 2012, was exactly that: a series of bruising, concessive takes on techno and dub. That physicality has also come to inform the creation of Punish, Honey. Speaking to the Quietus' Rory Gibb in The Wire last year, Gainsborough described the liberating nature of switching off his computer and recording live with no overdubs. Within dance music, the rejection of software for hardware has become a firmly entrenched narrative, suggesting a return of the repressed. But here the liberation Gainsborough ascribes to working with physical instruments comes from an instinctive need to experiment by introducing more variables (and then "start fucking with them" as he goes on to explain) rather than any fetishism for components.
On Punish Honey, Gainsborough has realised this desire for tactility. His approach to the album's production resembles that of a Foley artist, with most of the album's sounds created with a number of handmade instruments. But equally, the album seems to be a deconstruction of that approach. On the opening track 'Febrile', the first crash of cymbal comes after 12 seconds of silence: jolting and mocking us like a rimshot punctuating a joke at our expense. As the percussion comes to a crescendo, both muscle and metal are worked to their limits. In much the same way, the screeching and harsh string sounds - apparently created from handmade "harmonic guitars" - on tracks like 'Drowned In Water And Light' and 'Kin To Coal' give an immediate sense of the tension and force being applied to them. Gainsborough seems to be testing not only what his crude instrumentation can withstand, but also his listeners.
Punish, Honey, the follow-up to the Bristol producer’s muted debut, Order of Noise, roils along a sequence of tortured biological rhythms. Gainsborough promises illness with opener “Febrile”, a minute and a half of silence disrupted by sudden clatters of percussion, but the songs that follow feel more like motion sickness than a spiking body temperature. Seven-minute centerpiece “Anima” batters its moving parts around a thin but unrelenting bass line like insects swarming the only streetlight in a remote farming town. “Red Sex” seems to point to Joy Division’s “She Lost Control” with its gusts of steam and industrial thumps, but quickly upends its own mechanical stability with queasy, winding synth lines. It breathes like an organism experiencing an unconscious adrenaline response, sick despite itself, brewing a slow panic.
Like his fellow UK fearmonger The Haxan Cloak, Vessel can be hard to listen to by yourself on a full stomach. But there’s a sense of play inside Punish, Honey that also calls to mind James Holden’s brilliant record from last year, The Inheritors. That mischievousness might actually make this a scarier album; at least Haxan Cloak’s Excavation was straightforward about aspiring to horror. Gainsborough doesn’t give up the game so easily. Like a wild animal, his work is furtive and unpredictable. At points, it’s even fun; despite its uneasiness, “Red Sex” could easily scan as a banger in the right context, and there’s a strange, subtle yearning to the cellos that creep behind the drums on “Drowned in Water and Light”.
Gainsborough gets that what makes Dickinson’s poetry so haunting isn’t its melancholia but its refusal to explain itself. Punish, Honey moves forward powered by the tension between what it keeps hidden and what little it shows.
For decades now, new electronic music hasn’t evolved - it’s simply mutated. Countless producers are emerging, with the underground crafting billions of hours of stubbornly similarly constructed (and admittedly very often just as compelling) loop-based beats, while a glance at the top 40 reveals how the electronic mainstream is still stuck in the same early-Noughties summer in Ibiza - needless to say well away from the radar from ‘proper’ critics. One would’ve thought that digitisation would fuel innovation, but the sonic spectrum of electronica’s remained pretty steadfastly intact. Big beats, washes of synth, arpeggiated melodies, buzz saws and sub bass - it's all as rich as ever, and yet stagnant. And then along comes Vessel.
Punish, Honey is a giant leap for British electronica, but perhaps only a small step for Vessel. While the surface of his last full length, Order of Noise certainly retained the semblance of an archetypal album of dark, dub-influenced instrumental productions, it harboured a far deeper and broader sense of sonic exploration than its user-friendly aesthetic let on. Elsewhere, his contributions to various projects under the Bristol-based Young Echo crew’s umbrella swept almost-archetypal trip-hop tunes under a murky veil of glitches and submersible noises, and his Killing Sound project with fellow Young Echoers, El Kid and Jabu, abstracted the structures of ambient techno into unexplored dark gothic depths. Punish, Honey takes the menacing undercurrent Vessel established on Order of Noise, and melts away the more recognisable, round-edges of dub and dubstep-influenced forms and techniques, ultimately replacing them with the sharper edged scrapes and whirrs of industry. It’s not languid, smooth and dreamy; it’s sharp, heavy and tangible, and steeped in vicious eroticism. Vessel’s focus has irrevocably switched from the visceral, to the physical.