Leeds. Oh Leeds. Make no mistake, I have a particular fondness for Leeds. I spent the best part of eight years there absorbing myself into every crevice of its wonderfully pluralistic music scene. Initially drawn in by the indie conquest of ¡Forward, Russia! I found myself immediately caught up in the whirlwind ascension of Pulled Apart By Horses and Dinosaur Pile-Up, the noise-hungry monopoly of Brew records and eventually made my exit just as the the psych revolution was kicking off with Hookworms and the like. These movements form a peculiar narrative and have spawned infinite (albeit sometimes stunted) tales of sonic adventure along the way.
Cattle are a peculiar band borne of that peculiar story. A hybrid of the dirgey noise-rock you’d expect to hear chugging its way through subterranean LS6, mixed with the relentless four to the floor grooves you were more likely to have come across in early 00’s New York City. In fact if you’re going to place Cattle on the Leeds music spectrum they’d fit snuggly in between Bilge Pump and Hookworms. It’s their distinctive brand of psychedelic dance-infused chaos that I find intriguing as much as I find it liberating.
In any other city a band like this would otherwise be dubbed a ‘super-group’, but cross-pollination has natural tendencies in Leeds. Hence Cattle is/was made up of members who also play/played in Super Luxury, Groak, Dull Aches, Magnapinna, Clenstch and Zozo. After a few years playing around with different line-ups, Cattle find themselves somewhat settled with Chris Robinson (harrowing ethereal vocals and theremin wizardry), Tom Goodall (The almighty Zeus, God of thunder, channeled through bass tone) and finally Steve Myles and Jambo Simpson (dual percussive joy terrorists). Former drummer Ant Bedford (of Magnapinna) is present throughout this recording (in place of newest recruit Jambo) for what is their seismic debut album: ‘Nature’s Champion’.
First track ‘Tanking The Piss’ (most likely a nod to fellow Yorkshire riffers That Fucking Tank – not taking the piss mind) is a steadfast statement of intent, carrying the clunk and cawing into the morning like a nightmare that’s dribbled its way out of your mouth and onto the pillow. This is quickly followed up with ‘Caring’; a track built upon the sort of mid-90’s grooves we’ve heard from Hip-Hop inspired alt-rock bands (the good – not bad, mind) ultimately culminating in a powerful crescendo. ‘Acrylic’’s superb hypnotically catchy opening riff and lyrics – seemingly about starting but never finishing anything, give way to the gnarliest of breakdowns. The dual-drums of the Myles/Bedford alliance competently providing the sliding tectonics for Robinson’s haunted psychedelic vocalisms.
The underlying tone of Nature’s Champion is fairly dark, as the cloaked lyrics cover subjects of fear and paranoia: “A noise like choking / Holding back the fear… A short sharp sound / The smoothing process” That last line in particular “the smoothing process” (from ‘Fears and Hesitations’), is a suitable summation of what Cattle does with rhythm as a counterpoint to their “short sharp sound”. The two methods juxtaposed create the cloven hooved composite, a two headed beast confidently dancing out it’s bitter frustrations and anguish. In a way I find it most apt for the times we’re living in now, where fear dominates our landscape and hinders meaningful and enjoyable communication free of anxiety. I would certainly rather dance out my fears to the soundtrack of Cattle in a room full of like-minded noise addicts than be sat alone on the internet, seeking out the next dirty bomb of outrage to charge my blood.
‘Found In A Tract Of Land’ is about the fear of being accused of something you didn’t do and is possessed with more unnerving jolts, twists and turns than season one of Making A Murderer. The dense delay and feedback is greatly disorientating, as the angered vocals sweep through the mix.
Somewhere, across the unfathomable stretches of our quantum matrix, there is a parallel universe. The year is 1995 and Rage Against The Machine are trapped in a stinking hot L.A. apartment, arguing over the creative process of their as-yet-untitled sophomore album. As they break for lunch, Morello’s uncanny avatar notices a bag of psilocybin mushrooms left on the side (perhaps a gift from an anonymous cheeky time-travelling Yorkshire git). He proceeds to consume the whole bag. The rest, as they say, is history – albeit a document of history that is subsequently rejected by their record label and shelved for all eternity. Back in our universe, and as Cattle spin their primordial but compelling grooves in the steaming belly of CHUNK, a strange signal is picked up via their theremin. It’s the raging ghost in the machine, an otherworldly artefact from another dimension, a fractured rear-view mirror directing them towards an uncertain future. Familiarity battling improvised noise.
In penultimate track ‘Red, Again’ obnoxious riffs continue that battle against agonising cries, before final track ‘Moon Crawl’ comes as a perfect bookend. A swinging backbeat and sweltering sax (courtesy of Karl D’Silva) create some of the most harmonious moments on the record, but again they’re meticulously carving out a groove for the fear to be channeled into:
“And your life in the corner / And the fear is spreading / And you’re lonely / You lonely little prick / You’ve done this to yourself / And the fear is spreading / What you’ve done to yourself / Is isolated yourself / You’ve pushed them away / You’ve pushed them away / You’re lonely…”
Hearing this number played live and seeing herds of people breaking free from their rusty iron cages to sway enigmatically to the music does much to create a contradiction in expression between the audience and players themselves. It is not clear whether this phenomenon is a result of muddied communication or resolutely furthers connectivity and unity through the loss of meaning. Whatever the answer may be this peculiar phenomenon is encapsulated in the final refrain:
“And the lights in the air / And the noise on the ground / It destroys and confuses”
On Nature’s Champion, Cattle irrigate modern fear into lush and rich deltas of crystalline ecstasy. To drink from their water is to absorb pain and metabolise it for positive purposes. To crawl in their moonlight is to throw shapes to shade. It makes for a thrilling exorcism and one hell of a band. Let’s hope Nature’s Champion isn’t the only pitstop on Cattle’s peculiar journey.
Nature’s Champion is released November 15th 2016. Pre-order the record here!