• Esme Watts

LICE: WASTELAND: What Ails Our People Is Clear


LICE releases their first album with a tempest of volume and voice. This ambitious debut from the Bristol based art-punk group has covered unhabituated territory, that leaves a sour taste in your mouth.


Established at Bristol University in 2015 and originally casted as punks, LICE spent two years to create WASTELAND: What Ails Our People Is Clear”, the time taken to produce the album is manifested greatly. To describe the album bluntly, it is aggressively thought provoking.


Unlike any usual debuts, LICE have proven to produce an extremely ambitious album, ‘WASTELAND’ is more of a concept album, exploring satire and narrative through industrialised reverberations, one could say the group lean to more of an avant-garde approach.


Some may deem this first move as too ambitious for a debut album, but why should ambition be ever knocked back?


The project scores heavy undertones, and their immersive resonance shoves us straight into this wasteland, constantly reminding us of this dystopia with their industrial echoes. Silas Dilkes (Guitarist) gives us the illusion of clanging metal from the scrapes of his guitar, and Bruce Bardsle (Drummer) teasing our senses.


Like a rabbit in the headlights, you are unforgivingly exposed to their wry honesty. The album opens with ‘Conveyor’, a spine rattling track. ‘Conveyor’ welcomes us to the wasteland, with scrutinised sounds of crashing metals and heavy drum beats. LICE had even crafted their own version of the intonarumori, a sound making machine that was originally built by Italian Futurist, Luigi Rollolo, in the early 20th Century.


The eerie, unsettling sound of the self-titled ‘noise intoner’ is an undercurrent, flowing through the album violently. Although you might be somewhat disillusioned, sometimes unable to differentiate the intonarumori with the guitars and drums, this confusion only amplifies the anarchy of the wasteland. This is highlighted in tracks like “Imposter” and “Pariah”


R.D.C” and “Deluge” carry a heavy tone, with sharp staggers that lean further towards a metal genre. Whereas you are quickly stunned with tracks like “Folla”, evoking an imaginationary atmosphere, guided through by the impressive, aggressive vocals of the narrator Alastair Shuttleworth, which materialises their post-punk title.


The undercurrent of uncertainty continues throughout the album, with more of a psychedelic murmur in “Serata” as Shuttleworth’s haunting voice vibrates your eardrums; yet the song's abrupt change by the end of the track reminds us of their belligerent nature.


Before the project’s release, LICE published a handbook (WASTELAND: What Ails Our People Is Clear by Settled Law Records - issuu) that pairs alongside the album. Once uncovered you find you are reading something that feels like it has been taken from a Samuel Beckett play.


With the same title as the album, it introduces itself by specifying the overall conception of the album, distinguishing its lyrics as satire. The group criticises modern musicians' lack of freedom with their lyrics, with fear of misinterpretation, and inevitably ‘forcing one to repeat oneself’ - a courageous move indeed.


The pamphlet continues as an anthology of stories that mould between magical realism and absurdism, set in an unforgiving, everchanging wasteland. The short stories, which mimic the lyrics of the albums songs, follow certain typical fantastical characters such as time travellers and shapeshifters, and less conventional characters like talking genitalia.


With amplified imagery and political undertones, the stories ultimately end with warped typography, dismembering words on the page, or changing the linguistic style completely.


The dizziness of the pamphlet reflects in their conclusive track, “Clear”, which opens with Shuttleworth’s unearthly vocalisation, flickers of guitar cranks and the never ending eeriness of the noise intoner.


Yet the track dives in and out of a more uplifting, softer sound, Shuttleworth’s calming voice complementing a beautifully melancholic guitar rhythm until the song, and consequently the album ends in a manic repetition, leaving us in this imaginary wasteland and left questioning what really ails our people.


'WASTELAND' is an autonomous album which runs like an electrical cord from start to finish, and with a mind of its own, its spontaneity shocks us without warning. It is most certainly a concept album, aggressively thought provoking and artistically exemplified. An ambitious debut, however it is clear that LICE are capable of continuing their courageousness, and with unnerving anticipation, we wait for their next move.


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