I listened to Mandelbrot Set whilst reading the newspaper, in an attempt to lend the band the kind of pre-apocalyptic gravitas that they are so clearly aiming for. Iran and the US are edging ever closer to open conflict. There’ a 12 kilometre-long security fence being built around Heiligendamm, the small German town that will host this year’ annual G8 summit. Genetically engineered chickens now lay eggs with bonus anti-cancer drugs.
Nope. It’s not working. Mandelbrot Set still sound like they phoned in their sub-Godspeed performance from a dreary, distant street corner. Unimaginative riffs play and replay against a predictable, escalating noise. Drums and cymbals clatter portentously, but to not much purpose. The whole mix is thick and muddled; that phone line must have been a particularly bad one.
The key to this genre – to any genre, really – is conviction: you’ve got to believe in your despair, and the world’ with it. Godspeed You! Black Emperor always trod a very, very fine line between existential abyss and vein-popping rapture; as such, their work glowed with a rare, grief-stricken fervour. It’s not enough to hit Anxiety Loop on your guitar pedal and then sit there, as if you were idling down the highway. You can wrap your album in a diagram charting global oil consumption but it won’ leap the gaps between politics and emotion for you, if the music can’.
Mandelbrot Set sound best when they shelve any Schopenhauer-sized ambition and turn their craft towards something more compact, with the closing track “His Hands Were Too Smallâ€¦’ Then, plangent fragments of guitar and violin ring out with clarity and genuine, unaffected melancholy. Small can be beautiful. Mandelbrot Set should learn it.