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No greater intellectual authority than Ian Brown once claimed that kids need boredom, saying that the fact there were only three TV channels in the mid-Eighties gave him the impetus to form The Stone Roses. Rudi Zygaldo might well agree with him, even if growing up in Manchester with only TV-AM must seem almost decadent to a kid raised in the Scottish countryside without any TV at all. Filling his head with classical music and obscure Eastern European literature instead, you might imagine such relative isolation would breed an almost monastic state of mind. Until you hear his debut album, that is. Calling Rudi Zygaldo ‘a bit restless’ is like saying that another Brown – our own dear Gordon – is ‘a mite moody’. For Great Western Laymen sometimes feels like a kid banging a TV remote control with one hand whilst wildly turning the radio dial with another and headbutting his laptop in between; diving into the multichannel sensory overload with unabashed glee.
Boredom might have inspired The Stone Roses to combine rock and dance, but Zygaldo throws absolutely anything he can get his hands on – be it space rock, grime, jazz or even choral religious chanting – into his kitchen sink collages. He might nominally be associated with dubstep, but saying that a track like ‘Magic In The Afternoon’ is ‘dubstep’ just because it contains a few 130bpm bass wobbles is like saying ‘Something About Faith’ is ‘pop’ just because Zygaldo’s singing on it. It would sound oddball enough amongst the other experimental wares on Mary Anne Hobbs’ Radio 1 show, let alone the daytime playlists. Yet what really differentiates Zygaldo from most dubstep is that where the best of that music derives its power and atmosphere from the use of space, every nook and cranny of Great Western Laymen is stuffed with busy odds and sods of sound. Like Aphex Twin, Bass Clef and fellow Glasgow resident Hudson Mohawke, Zygaldo is seemingly unable to settle on one idea for longer than five seconds before throwing it away in favour of something else. Like his contemporaries, this approach can regularly result in moments of inspired genius, but it can also make for an exhausting listen. Take ‘Resealable Friendship’, which begins with Zygaldo multi-tracking his voice into what sounds like a choir on ketamine, before releasing hyperactive beats over a bassline that’s constantly stumbling behind. With so many different tempos crashing into each other it’s like watching a centipede tie itself in knots.
Only two tracks really work as cohesive entities. Relatively uncluttered compared to most other things on here – although you still break a sweat trying to follow everything that’s going on – ‘Stop / Reject’ sends a low-riding synthetic groove slipping through the sort of star-gazing sounds familiar from Detroit techno and cosmic disco. Meanwhile, ‘The Man In The Duck’ is the most blatant example of Zygaldo’s supposed ‘pop’ sensibility, a sort of lo-fi R&B ballad which, with all the bubbling noises and flatulent bass, occasionally sounds like he’s singing down a length of showerhose whilst accompanying himself by farting in the bath.
But whilst many tracks are an indigestible mouthful taken as a whole, each one also contains at least one or two astounding moments. It’s easier to pick out the parts of each track that you like – the free jazz sax solo that introduces ‘Missa Per Brevis’ say, the way classical piano spirals over something resembling the Jaws theme at the end of ‘Magic In The Afternoon’, or the genuinely unnerving choral vocals that make 'Song Of Praise’ sound like a diabolical Black Mass that definitely wouldn’t be screened on Sunday evenings. Plus, Zygaldo’s production is a marvel to behold – as taut as Botoxed buttocks throughout the whole album, the synths on ‘Something About Faith’ sound as if they’re being squeezed out of a toothbrush tube. Precocious Zygaldo might well be but boring is one thing he certainly isn’t, and even if Great Western Laymen isn’t quite as clever as it thinks it is, it certainly offers a damn good argument for turning off the TV.