In 1934 American director Robert Flaherty (Nanook of The North) released his third film, Man Of Aran about the island inhabbitants struggles against mother nature off the West Coast of Ireland. It blends fiction and documentary and over the years has proved quite controversial due to its many staged scenes. It’s this film that forms the basis for the collaboration between English globetrotting folk/blues guitarist Mike Cooper, and French experimental rock outfit Hifiklub.
They came together in 2017 to record (and ultimately perform) the score to this silent film. Perhaps most unexpected is the volume of vocals from Cooper. Cooper eschews a poetic approach to lyrics and instead it’s like he’s reading a guidebook to the islands, and it turns out he is, Irish writer John Millington Synge’s 1907 book The Aran Islands. What’s so curious is that he sings these words rather than speaking them, and the lack of songwriting structure to the lyrics is very strange – yet this unique approach makes them quite compelling.
This is an album of hidden moments, where everything coalesces into a curiously muscular psychedlic post punk soundscape. Gentle atmospherics frequently explode into full blown rocks outs. The psych tinged guitar, the driving repetitive throb of the percussion, and then Cooper’s earnest guidebook intonations create a truly difficult to define time and place. This is music that could be from anywhere. I can hear everything from Pink Floyd to Sonic Youth within these tones. You get the sense that the music’s explosions in volume and density are reacting to onscreen storms or the violent destructive sea, yet these are fully formed pieces and are compelling in their own right without visuals. At times urgency and psychedelia merge and its disconcerting – like the music is going in two directions at once. Yet it works. As an ensemble they utilise space to create atmosphere, where everything can drift down into nothing for a few seconds before the song seems to rouse itself and recommences. There’s a lot going on.