The Body & Dis Fig – Orchards of a Futile Heaven


Experimental duo, The Body, deserve the epithet of noise terrorists. Formed in 1999 as an unorthodox sludge metal band, their 2014 and 2016 albums earned acclaim at the extreme end of the musical spectrum thanks to their vicious mix of power electronics and industrial doom stylings. With eight full-length records to their name, Lee Buford and Chip King (yes, that’s his name), are also at the forefront of producing collaboration albums. Their latest effort is the sixteenth of their career, and this time they picked Felicia Chen (aka Dis Fig) as their creative partner. You weren’t expecting seven middle-of-the-road numbers, were you?

The fustigating beats in opener, ‘Eternal Hours’, flare from the snares like a soluble in acid as layers of dialogue and siren loops swim around the mix. Felicia Chen’s anxious breathing and fragile melodies give the illusion of structure in this chaos. But this is easier to navigate than you might imagine. The obvious thing to do here is to drown the channels with distorted bass drones, and that’s how The Body approach their sound design here. Chen’s screaming in the background is as unsettling as a date with a sociopath. Is this what a never-ending nightmare sounds like when you remain in a suspended state of terror?

Predictability comes in many guises, and The Body’s harsh noise experiments are no exception to this rule. ‘To Walk a Higher Path’ is power electronics with coquettish vocals fed through the misanthropy of a Throbbing Gristle experiment. You can feel the resonance of Felicia Chen’s voice in your bones. By contrast, her pipes echo with the naivety of a child-like prayer in ‘Dissent, Shame’. This is music as an iron ore smelting operation with introspective harmonies. There’s a ritual worship element to Chen’s performance, yet you get the impression that she’s happy to find her true self through suffering and deprivation. The regular electronic beats and waves of distortion fight with a hollow synth melody, but none of them can compete with Chen’s tortured self-reflection here.

Do we give too much credence to experimental noise? The aim in the title-track is to simulate the pain of being electrocuted. One hopes that French singer-songwriter, Barabra Weldens, did not experience this gasp of pain when she died on stage after stepping on an exposed wire in 2017. Under the surface, this experiment is much simpler than you think – create a state of paranoia, pretend the song has no structure, never establish regular drum rhythms led by the kick and snare, and plant neurotic vocals over the top of it to provide the melody. ‘Coils of Kaa’ invites similar scepticism. Take a bass drum and a loop pedal and feed it through a guitar amp with extra gain and a high-treble boost. Then, present it as a file-share with the collaborator and ask her to sing over it as if releasing the stream of consciousness from her mind. The fact that people will declare this an ingenious experiment is the biggest drawback of the listening experience. Yes, it creates a harrowing outcome that wants to scar the listener, but there’s little originality in this music. Yet as an analogy for the neurosis of our modern age, it proves its worth as a contemporary art construct.

Just about every song on this collaboration album uses droning synth bass notes that sound like laser scans wiping the memory of a human brain. They’re at their most chilling on closing track, ‘Back to the Water’, where they induce a clear sense of dread. Stand to attention – your overlord will be here any minute. But a nagging question persists through Orchards of a Futile Heaven. Did somebody invite Author & Punisher to recreate Portishead as an industrial-doom project? There’s no doubt that this album would be inconsequential without the outer-body meditations of Felicia Chen.

JVB


Verdict


Release Date: 23/02/2024

Record Label: Thrill Jockey Records

Standout track: Eternal Hours; Dissent, Shame; Back to the Water

Suggested Further Listening: Venera – Venera (2023), Throbbing Gristle – 20 Jazz Funk Greats (1979), Mtvoid – Matter’s Knot, Pt.1 (2023)