"At times like these it's every man for himself." So starts the latest solo release from vocalist, electronic artist and drummer Charles Hayward, his first since his excellent Abracadabra Information album in 2004 on the Japanese Locus Solus label. The former This Heat drummer has carved an outstanding path as an innovator and collaborator in rock and improvised music, including the post-Heat band Camberwell Now, the current edition of Massacre with Fred Frith and Bill Laswell, touring live with Peter Brotzmann, projects with Chris Cutler, Hugh Hopper, GOL, Lol Coxhill, &c. &c. Hayward has compiled an awe-inspiring list of projects, conceptual works, and a large discography of excellent records. Every few years he releases a solo record, often performing all parts, including writing and singing material that he refers to as having a sci-fi quality, or having "some feeling for a schism inside the everyday that throws us all into an unforeseen future".
Drummers rarely release truly solo releases, but to say that Hayward is fundamentally a drummer is an understatement on the man's abilities. Drums are the foundation to his music, and there are few drummers as focused and solid as Hayward, who has impeccable timing and a breathtaking ability to vary and mix a beat without losing momentum. The sheer inventiveness of his playing is nothing short of remarkable, and the years and experience have strengthened those skills. For years he has worked with electronics, initially low-fi keyboards and their equivalent, adding pressure-filled accompaniment that twists musical cliché by incorporating them as essential parts of his compositions. The sonic quality of those electronics has improved over the years, but the purposefulness of and the innovative addition of those sounds has remained constant. One Big Atom impresses with massive bass tones, squiggly interludes, simple melodic progression, whining synth, sound collage, buzzing loops, and ghostly refrains. Layers of deceptively complex layers counterpoint his songs, guiding his compositions and, most importantly, his message.
Ultimately it's the songs that makes Hayward's albums the riveting offerings they are. This Heat and Camberwell Now are noted for their intelligently cynical attitudes, unmasking hypocrisy and banality with pointed words, sing-sung and spoken with a barbed attitude. Hayward is not a "pretty" vocalist, and ballads have no real home in his catalog. This is consistent with his roots, as This Heat was a forward-thinking rock band with punk ethics that used the kitchen sink to get their message across. Content and presentation make his works forceful, and One Big Atom revels in both. Songs start from nowhere, stopping abruptly as a ghost ship passes, quickly reconnecting with Hayward's muscular drumming and melodic accompaniment. He reminds us of Guy Fawkes ("Fifth of November"), spits in the face of narcissism ("Crazy Paving Eggshell"), recognizes the sadness of life ("Your Voice"), perhaps a cry against the erosive nature of modern life. As with Abracadabra Hayward emphasizes the madness of life, using quick cuts and and urgent instrumental language to point out both the unpredictability and frustration of modern existence.
Hayward himself says of the album: "One Big Atom is meant to feel urgent, incomplete, rough, like a message from the resistance just before the paramilitary kick in the door and shut down transmission." As his music evolves Hayward states this message more clearly than ever, mesmerizing and engaging the listener through a wealth of information never forced, always articulate, and informed by a lifetime of writing and performing uniquely skeptical yet hopeful music.
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