"The Enemy Is the State" (Album,2017) !Recommended!
couple of very limited cassette-only releases a few decades back
aside, this is, what I think he himself would also consider to be,
John Costello's first album 'proper'.
Enemy Is the State is available as a digital download, but also
in a strictly limited edition and numbered CD pressing which comes
with Electrobiography - an accompanying thirteen track album
of cover versions.
it's a damn shame it has taken so long to pull these songs together.
As not only is the songwriting of an impressive calibre, but Costello
has a distinct ability to compellingly turn is hand (and impressively
his voice) to many variations on a theme.
little-known, Costello has been involved with several key figures on
the underground electronic music scene for many years. (He not too
long ago worked on a dramatic re-arrangement of Apoptygma
Berzerk's classic Until The End of The World for their
remarkable Exit Popularity Contest album).
thirteen songs in total. Four of which (Artist, Architect, Cities
In Question, Tell Me Now and Nothing)
appeared on his previous superb Autotron
inspiration form a broad range of primarily electronic artists past
and present, Costello has crafted a unique, and convincing,
proposition in his own right.
Propelled (Night Rider) opens proceedings, taking its
inspiration (and choice samples) from the Night Rider character in the
original Mad Max film. Costello instantly creating an
infectious earworm that will have you subliminally repeating its
memorable chorus days, even weeks after hearing it.
he wants to instil it, there's a grandeur to his writing and
arrangement. Take the sweeping synth pads backing to a checklist of
architects Costello admires on Artist, Architect. It shares
all those thrilling elements of Kraftwerk
at their finest.
the similarly-styled globetrotting Cities In Question. It too
reflecting a respectful recognition of what has gone before but
enveloping it in a immaculately crafted, shimmering glamour uniquely
are three covers of artists Costello clearly admires. Testcard F's Blanket
Expression, Hollywood Boulevard by The Cold Delivery and
Rational Youth's Holiday in Bangkok. Honestly, I wasn't
familiar with any of the originals, but having gone back to listen to
them, it is remarkable what Costello has done with the material.
not radical interpretations. Instead, it's as if they exist alongside
the originals, in some parallel universe, but where these versions are
in fact the source compositions. Although he'd probably find it
disrespectful to hear me say it, I honestly think some of Costello's
are better than the originals.
special mention has to go to a couple of others behind the scenes.
Both of whom are no stranger this publication. Firstly, Geoff Pinckney
(Tenek) for his absolutely
top-notch production and engineering. Secondly, Martin Bowes of Attrition fame for mastering.
throughout all of this are a cluster of like-minded and foreboding
songs including Desert of the Real, The Sweet Hereafter
and LBJ-JFK-FBI-CIA and The Struggle. The
aforementioned Autotron EP tracks aside, it's within the first
three of these key songs that Costello reaches the pinnacle on his
writing and performance.
unsure if he's only quoting Morpheus from The
Matrix, or from Slavoj iek's book of the same title on Desert
of the Real. Possibly both. Either way, the resulting dystopian
romance comes across like a musical/lyrical painting. It is the first
in a number of songs on The Enemy Is the State that convey a
chilling sense of wisdom about the real world operates. Both in love
only is the dexterity of Costello's musical prowess showcased on
these, but his lyrics are shown to be more than a match for his
songwriting. His clarity of vision and mastery of his chosen words
(especially on The Sweet Hereafter), conveyed without the fuss
or purple prose that lets down so many others, is impressive.
composing these, it's almost as if Costello is himself wrestling with
his own mental demons.
question is: are they conjured up, purely the product of an overly
active imagination; or is there a genuinely disturbing meta agenda
that Costello can see as clear as day? If you're at all unsure of the
truth behind that rhetorical question then this album is unlikely to
suit your mindset.
if like Mark Stewart (who demonstrated on As the Veneer of
Democracy Starts to Fade), you know only too well that what
Costello has actually crafted here is a last, desperate clarion call
for action against an uncomfortable truth, then you've found the
perfect soundtrack to accompany it.
The Enemy Is the State is an album of haunting beauty, delivering a piercing message. 8/10
Rob Dyer (January 2018)
"Autotron" (EP, 2013) !Recommended!
Our present world of readily accessed digital music is both a
blessing and a curse. A blessing because there is so much good music
to be unearthed. (Lord knows how many hours I spend in a year
rummaging round YouTube discovering previously unknown gems but it
still isn't enough!). A curse because the quality filter and 'brand
you can trust' role of the traditional label has been massively
undermined. Just a couple of years ago I could have counted the amount
of self-released music that was worth reviewing on the fingers of one
This year, some of the best music I've heard has been self-released. What used to be the digital equivalent of the 'Free! Take me' bin has been turned right around by a continuous stream of good music, well-engineered and presented. All of which brings us to John Costello's Autotron EP. Available in a limited edition CD jewel case of 100 units as well as a digital download from Costello's Bandcamp page.
unknown to me until he put on Reproduktion13
a mini-festival of electronic music last month at the Roundhouse in
London. He's been bubbling under the radar for a couple of decades,
releasing a few cassette albums before joining forces with Attrition's
Martin Bowes to write, record and release a track under the name
Engram. This new EP is Costello's first solo release since his Halflife cassette in 1989.
Costello defines Autotron as "A
person existing in servitude to a corrupt system whose control is so
effective that the subject is either unaware of being exploited and
perceives itself as essentially free, or is aware but chooses to
live in a state of perpetual denial.'
So, you'd be forgiven for thinking this was going to be a tad morose, but it isn't quite so. However, it does start with the haunting Tell Me Now, the shimmering theme to some forgotten cult ITC series from the early 1970s as if scored by a John Barry-inspired John Foxx. It's beautiful. Artist Architect is a compulsory foray into vocoder territory, with Costello reading out a list of architects he considers to be artists. It is defined by the deceptive simplicity of its construction. Its angular electronics reflecting back the glass and concrete of the buildings which inspired its writing.
Cities In Question is a brilliant
slice of synthpop. It's almost as if Costello had secretly written Karl Bartos' Communication
album, keeping this song back for himself realising it would have
been a highlight. Curiously, Costello's voice sounds remarkably like
Bartos' and his lyrics, like his more famous German counterpart, also
resound with the matter-of-fact commentary on a modern world of
globe-trotting travel and bumping into celebrities in plush hotels in
America: Check out Scarlett
Johansson, get high on her perfume.
Nothing is the last of the four tracks and easily the most overtly dark entry here (reminding me of Costello's Lock, Load, Aim, Fire that featured on the Reproduktion 13 EP released earlier this year). For me it's the least memorable, seemingly going against Costello's natural writing style. Nevertheless, Autotron is all the evidence one needs to recommend the name John Costello. Time to acquaint oneself with his cassette back catalogue. 8/10
Rob Dyer (June 2013)
Reproduktion 13 EP