Although based in the UK, Dystopian Future Movies are powered by Irish singer/guitarist Caroline Cawley. So, to lead in with our shared vernacular, it’s important to note from the off that War Of Ether is, as we say here, no craic whatsoever. That’s not an insult, it’s as much a warning, as from the get-go, Dystopian Future Movies are entering into some serious sombre and heavy territory both musically and lyrically.
Tackling one of our nation’s greatest shames – the scandal around the Bon Secours Mother and Baby Home in Galway specifically, and the absolutely atrocious manner in which the Catholic Church and Irish society have historically robbed the lives of unwed mothers, their offspring and deprived them of any humanity or dignity.
It’s impossible to talk about this album and not talk about the background, and if I may, I’d suggest doing some research before getting into War Of Ether. If you’re too lazy to do that, I’ll make it simple for you: in March 2017, in Tuam, Co. Galway, a ‘significant number’ of human remains were discovered in an underground septic tank. These remains were linked to the 796 death certificates of children from the Tuam Bon Secours Home, for whom there were no burial records. The site is still awaiting a full-scale excavation, currently expected to happen in 2023, but we’ve been hearing that for five fucking years now. So bear that in mind as you listen to this record.
Opening in monolithic style with the narrative of She From Up The Drombán Hill, Cawley recites the tale of a young woman, left pregnant after her partner departs for foreign shores, and the gradual growth in scorn and judgement from her neighbours as she deals with the reality of being the local ‘fallen woman’ in their eyes. ‘And in the end, it was a creeping knowing, the way a cumulative change so gradual, gently effervesces into the folds and fabric of each relentless day’ she intones gravely at one point, summing up the dread of the situation over a gradually unfolding musical drama that builds from an unaccompanied voice, through restrained but angst laden guitar layering to a searing riff over the course of its near ten minutes. It’s like the same narrative spirit that drove Slint’s Good Morning Captain or Neurosis’ Lost has been transported to the wilds of Connacht.
To start with such a dramatic entry point could have overshadowed the rest of the record, but impressively, it absolutely doesn’t. And while the message, along with the skill of Cawley’s lyricism, are front and centre on this album, it’s not in any way to the detriment of the actual music. Dystopian Future Movies as a band have nailed a sense of drama that would have been equally as evocative had it been entirely instrumental. Their sound is dynamic and paced, but always drenched in an air of anxiety that is riveting in the way that many of their peers aren’t.
it’s a haunting record that is a powerful piece of art in its own right, solidifying a number of elements into a dynamic end result…
Drawing sonically from some imagined mid-point that tips the hat to the intricacies of some of the darker points in the 4AD Records catalogue on one hand, and Neurot Recordings on the other, Dystopian Future Movies aren’t some cookie cutter ‘post-doom’ or ‘post-metal’ band, they’re more a gloomy and articulate form of alt-rock, rife with atmosphere and gravitas, stark but also engaging and thankfully deprived of pomposity.
The temptation to echo the gravity of the subject matter with a barrage of musical drudgery or monochromatic riffing is deftly avoided. For example, The Walls Of Toil And Filth and No Matter both have a lightness of movement to them, and the interplay between guitars throughout the album, in terms of light and shade, keeps textures and moods shifting throughout. Cawley’s voice is smooth and strangely calming in contrast to the musical turmoil behind her, a focal point at the eye of a storm. The balance the band exerts over the course of the eight tracks is impressive – they can tip from gentle chords and subtle rhythm into full distortion without ever going too far into the extremes of the spectrum, knowing just when to pull back and when to lean into a riff or a throttling bass and drum attack.
A Decent Class Of Girl brings the cycle around with another longer, droning epic that mirrors the opener, but this time hints of hope and vengeance shines through as Cawley intones ‘I won’t let you starve for nothing in the self same way’. Never forgive, never forget, but take action. It’s a more optimistic note than one might have expected but leaves you with plenty of food for thought.
This is an ongoing story, this is not an endgame, it’s a dot waiting for a further connection on a line that goes beyond this record. Nevertheless, War Of Ether is a standalone point rather than some form of propaganda – it’s a haunting record that is a powerful piece of art in its own right, solidifying a number of elements into a dynamic end result.
Kudos to Cawley and her band mates, not just for taking a stand, but for embedding their point in as compelling a musical setting as it deserves. As the saying goes, Dystopian Future Movies speak softly here but carry a big stick.
Scribed by: Jamie Grimes