WITNESS K - "WITNESS K" LP
As an outsider of the Sydney underground, Witness K had been a band that I'd feared I'd never get to experience. All the hallmarks were there; a reluctance to tour, little to no documentation, hushed reverence from people who's opinions I hold very high.
All I knew from the odd pic on social media was that Cured Pink's Andrew McLellan was involved, alongside Daily Toll's Sabina Rysnik and two others I didn't immediately recognise (being Lyn Heazlewood and Maeve Parker). This was more than enough information than I needed to be excited about this band, and fearful that like so many greats before them they would dissipate without leaving much behind.
It is then, with great delight, that I hold this album in my hands. On first glance there is temptation to compare this work to McLellan's past output (as much as anything due to the fact that the sheer weight of his oeuvre looms so large Australian underground music of the last 15 years) - a temptation I will indulge in a little. But it would be foolish to put this in the same category as something like Cured Pink, Enderie Nuatal, or Soft Power. While his touches are there, and it wouldn't surprise me if the overall production of the record was shaped by his sensibilities, this is first and foremost a band record.
The whole thing feels like a push and pull; teetering on the edge between free experimentation and grounding pop flourishes. Never fully falling one way or another. It's this tension that propels this record into truly great status, and which leaves it occupying space in my mind long after the second side ends.
More than anything, Witness K evokes (and evolves upon) an extremely specific and beautifully fertile time in Australian music. This album sits alongside Mad Nanna's "I Made Blood Better", Castings' "Punk Rock Is Bunk Squawk", and Vincent Over The Sink's "22 Coloured Bull Terriers" insofar as it creates a world all of it's own. A disorienting, magic space.
All the way from Sydney, ever/never records presents you with a masterpiece for our current times. It has the aura of a great classic record, avant-garde meets melodic intensities and contemporary poetry while inviting the listener to the urgent need for collective reflection.
A fantastic array of players with complex instrumentation offer us intricate narratives and multilayered soundscapes: Maeve Parker (flute, poetry, xylophone, and keys), Lyn Heazlewood (guitar, fan, vocals, and accordion) Sabina Rysnik (guitar, vocals, and keys), and Andrew McLellan (bass, vocals, electronics, and piano). Marcus Whale lends saxophone on 'Fantasy in Facsimile'. I was already incredibly excited about this record since Andrew McLellan's Cured Pink album Current Climate (also published on CD by ever/never) is for me, one of the best records of the last decade. Experimental no-wave dub as its best. The expectations have not only been met but astoundingly exceeded.
Witness K is a different affair altogether from Current Climate. Sparse but thoughtful. Recitations punctuated by sparks of shoegaze interventions make the mood serene but with a constantly menacing undercurrent. The compositions, the playing, and the production are masterfully accomplished; clear, precise, and beautifully executed. Think if the Shadow Ring finally play with their idols ZNR and together they invite Florence Shaw and Roland S. Howard to do a non- commercial city pop record to be produced by Mica Levi. This album cuts through the confusing digital entropic reality, in order to give you the necessary space to reflect while wandering subtly through field recordings, poetry, and voices that take you to different situations at the edge of memory and consciousness.
There is a certain atemporality to this record. Or rather it puts you exactly at that moment where history is breaking in two. As if you suddenly were in San Francisco in 1981, when Throbbing Gristle were disintegrating but a new beginning was also being constructed. Between the end of an era and the beginning of a new adventure. Captivating nostalgia for a past that you know you just have to let pass and move forward. No need to panic. ASMR melodies whisper to you that there is a future beyond our melting ground and that it is possible to crawl into the surface of a ragged society so you can keep going and able to build something different, something better and more honest. This is already marked in the name of the band which connects the dark undercurrent that goes through the record and refers to one of the most turbulent geopolitical Australian incidents in the last two decades. Witness K was a highly decorated ASIS officer (Australia's overseas secret intelligence agency) who revealed that in 2004 during the negotiations with East Timor for the extraction of oil and gas, the Australian secret service bugged East Timor's government and president's office so they could have the upper hand during the negations. This obviously resulted in an extremely bad deal with East Timor. Australia has done everything possible to hide this case.
Witness K is not about seeking discounted redemption, but showing that the ground is unstable, that this disintegrating society also offers the possibility of constructing a better future. It gives you the necessary warmth to acknowledge that the world is fucked but there is something that we can do about it. The more you listen to it the more layers you discover and the more you get. Opaque in the most positive way, this record is necessary. — Mattin (author of Social Dissonance)
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