Last time I was writing on a record steeped in Lancastrian occult folklore and delivered with Krautrock trappings was in Record Collector and the release was Earthling Society's Stations of the Ghost album, of which I noted "It's a heavy cauldron of oppressive moods that also takes in dark folk and their trademark lo-fi Krautrock vibe." Here's another album founded in the same surroundings and also dependent to a large extent on similar textures, this time by Adrian Flanagan and Dean Honer, The Eccentronic Research Council.
1612 Underture is, in their words, "one part political commentary and feminist manifesto and two parts theatrical fakeloric sound poem. Exactly 400 years since the trials and executions of the 12 women now known as The Pendle Witches, a purpose assembled collective ... pay homage to the legendary Lancastrian sisterhood." That collective includes the actor Maxine Peake – a smashing performer who is never less than excellent in everything she does and, if I recall correctly, someone who in a past interview alluded to being something of a, perhaps lapsed, Hawkwind and Gong fan – whose no-nonsense delivery of Flanagan's words is the emotional heart of a record that, from their own description, would sound depressive and introspective but which masterfully blends a very serious and rightfully righteous indignation with a well-defined sense of character and humour. It might have a soundtrack that largely depends on being akin to the output of the bastard lovechild of Delia Derbyshire and Dik-Mik Davies, Radiophonic Workshop bleeps and signals merge with intricately minimalist Krautrock patterns and experimental electronic tunes, but it's an immensely listenable, compelling and absorbing record (CD currently, vinyl LP to follow).
Some of the material seems designed to play to the strengths of their key collaborator; 'Trial by Jiggery Pokery' is a thought-provoking rumination on the nature of justice and the manner in which the process that delivers 'justice' can be distorted, with Peake's impassioned recitation being a Martha Costello-esque performance straight out of an episode of Silk, all passion and determination and a need to say that this isn't right or that what we do here, this doesn't equate to justice. Elsewhere they play to strength, with Peake's broad northern accent giving a deadpan delivery to the notion that the A666 might be misnamed as 'The Devil's Highway' since "I can't believe the Devil came from Bolton ... and I don't believe he was ever a fan of Chris Rea". It's simply deliciously sardonic but genuinely humorous stuff that really brings the colour and shade to this work.
It's clear then that their homage to the Pendle Witches isn't a dryly historic rumination but something that juxtaposes light and dark, and it's also a starting point for a very contemporary opinion piece that at times, whether that be through its examination of the nature of law or particularly on the final track, 'The Ghost of Old Elisabeth Southerns Returns...', which with its list of modern curses (the Jeremy Kyle/Matthew Wright audience, Rabid Cameron, crocs and flip-flops, the ancient law books [still] used today...) is withering and sharp in the manner that it finds things mediocre, lacking in substance, or archaic. And in being that sharp, that direct and to the point, actually it's intriguing and challenging. It's quite the best new record that I've heard this year so far.
Best Track: 'Curious Morbids'. "We pulled into a heritage centre with Doctor Who as a narrator..." OK, not, not the best track – though for Peake's delivery of that opening line alone I'd so want it to be, but actually I'd pick out the arrangement of 'Another Witch is Dead', a conflagration of sound poem and song with Peake and the vocalist Philly Smith working alongside and across each other in unsettling call and response.