Locean have been kicking around the Manchester weirdo scene for eight years or so now, with varying collectives of players centred around the voice of Lauren Bolger and Jay Temple on guitar. Lauren has described this album as ‘a return to the early, unhinged phase of Locean’ and ‘the closest you’ll get to actually seeing a Locean show’, which I guess is an offering of sorts in the Year Of No Gigs.
I’m tempted to see Top Ten Zen Meditations (as a title) like a sort of mischievous joke – sonically we’re pretty far from the Top Ten of the charts; depending which version (cassette/digital/vinyl) you’re looking at as there are somewhere between six and eight tracks; and while some of the record is sparse and minimal, the sound is not what I would consider conducive to meditation. It’s difficult to sum up what the sound of the album is as it encompasses clean and open impressionistic drift and the lumber and clang of noise-sters like scene-fellows GNOD, and of course Lauren Bolger’s voice whispering, murmuring, scolding and raging throughout.
With Coca Cola she opens the album with ambiguity, words that miss slightly and slip across a border of meaning. Her delivery is intimate and well yes, sexy in a way. I’m mindful of the risk here of the misogynist trap of female-singer-objectification, but this seems clearly part of the intent, and in the context of the physicality captured in her performance, it’s a facet of personality like any other. The push-pull of interpersonal relationships is sketched out in the changing energy and timbre, and in the imprecise words that sit among the arrangements.
The up-close sound early in the album is a powerful asset, so it seems a strange choice that in the second half of the record, her voice is pushed further back in the mix and noticeably run through effects. However this does leave room for some richer instrumentation and lets the phrases drift in the mix.
when Top Ten Zen Meditations gets its teeth into the bone, it’s a compelling thing indeed…
Locean have presented this as the product of two different line-ups, and it sounds as though that could be a straight Side A/Side B split. Read like this, I must admit that I far prefer line-up A, while the relative mellowness from Officer onwards offers some relief from the harsh atonal momentum and death grunge of the first half, there are more ‘misses’ in the explorations. Some guitar soloing that seems to be quite deaf to what else is going on, a swinging ‘Eastern’ melody, and the more buried vocals reduce Locean’s impact.
That said, the moody build of All Around Me is pretty cool and closes the album (at least the version I have, it seems to vary!) with a steady sprawl of noisy elements in synergy. I get the impression that Locean’s work here is based in improvisation, and I don’t know if it’s that, or an aesthetic choice, meaning that these songs tend to be very linear, elements adding or subtracting around an idea that remains fixed. Maybe that’s the Zen meditation hidden in plain sight.
This is unlikely an album I come back to daily, or weekly, but sometimes you need some noisy, jazzy, debauched-but-austere ritualism, and when Top Ten Zen Meditations gets its teeth into the bone, it’s a compelling thing indeed.
Scribed by: Harry Holmes