❉ CWNN’s new album takes the listener on a rewarding journey, writes Ange Chan.
East London duo Cult with No Name (CWNN) comprises of Erik Stein and Jon Boux and they have an impressive international pedigree of collaborations under the belt, which are showcased once more in their latest album release Mediaburn, due to hit the public on 11th October.
Erik recently told me, “Mediaburn is probably the most contemporary album that we have ever produced, in the sense that it directly reflects, ponders and dismantles the global society that we’re living in. ‘May you live in interesting times…’ and hope to tell the tale!”
On the heels of their brilliant Heir of the Dog album released in 2017, CWNN are working once again with Tuxedomoon and the vocal talents of Kelli Ali, both of whom are long-time collaborators having worked together alongside synthpop demigod John Foxx on filmmaker Peter Braatz’s documentary ‘Blue Velvet Revisited’, where the musicians were commissioned to produce the score. The resulting soundtrack was a composition that was both evocative and dark, perfectly emanating the essence of the original Blue Velvet 1985 classic film.
Mediaburn is the ninth studio album from the duo and follows recent projects with Kelli Ali, The Residents and Rusty Egan who released his own remix of CWNN’s Swept Away, inviting frontman Erik Stein to perform the new single with former Gary Numan long-time keyboard player, Chris Payne.
A clearly impressed Payne recently said to me, “I have known and worked with Erik since we were first introduced at the Dusseldorf Electronic Music Festival in 2016 where I got to know both Erik and Jon. I was instantly impressed by their compositions and Erik’s amazing vocal and stage presence. I think in Erik, we have the Bryan Ferry of Electronic music.”
Before I go on to review the album, an essential word needs to be mentioned about the CD package which you receive for your cash; it comprises of ‘build your own’ jewel case inserts in a deluxe high colour foldout box, a glossy poster, and a download code as well as the CD itself, which continues with the theme on the sleeve art. The striking artwork was designed by Leigh at Bit-Phalanx and is somewhat of a clever triumph in my opinion, emanating the sleek sounds of the music contained within.
Duly enthusiastic about CWNN’s latest offering, the album contemplates the nuances of our disintegrating society through their clever lyrical content and synth-driven musical styling. Their acid-wit is delivered with aplomb in the opening track Blind Dogs for the Guide which has Bowie overtones in its presentation, along with an effortlessly catchy hook which immediately piques your interest. The next track Needle and Thread skilfully illustrates how CWNN have progressed, upping their game with slick production and high professionalism. This song is not too dissimilar to an earlier Depeche Mode offering, when they were at their best circa twenty years ago and I can offer no higher compliment to CWNN in this regard.
Juxapositioned in its tempo, is In Hollywood You Won’t Find Bel Air which showcases what CWNN do best; haunting ballads tinged with mournful, regretful lyrics, dripping in Stein’s trademark smooth Ferry-esque delivery. She Sells Incels changes direction slightly toward a jazz ‘tinged at the edge’ affair, which not only showcases Boux’s synth capability, but also that of Tuxedomoon’s Steven Brown’s soulful sax.
Fake Nudes continues with the melancholia, but this time tackles the subject of the often disgraceful media reporting around the globe, summed up eloquently with the simple lyric of ‘he lied’. It’s both topical and resolute, and cleverly holds a musical mirror up to the fakery we have no option but to endure in these ever-changing and uncertain times.
The mood of the album is lifted in a break-up song of pure synthpop, which has lyrics that lift the mood of the track right up and is reminiscent of Blancmange. Contrasting in content again, By Air or By Sea sees the violin textures of Tuxedomoon’s Blaine L Reininger, which almost weep their beauty, enhancing the woefulness delivered through the lyrics.
Meanwhile Low on High returns to a jazz-tinged feel thanks to the soothing sax of Tuxedomoon’s Steven Brown, which helps to make you feel like the track is taking you on a journey and which carries you through the album into (No Such Thing) as Silence, which is a rhythmic instrumental soundscape produced by using an Olympus LS-P4 mobile recorder, and acts as a hiatus to the remainder of the mighty thirteen tracks of the album.
Progressing into Mona, another soothing, melodic song which continues with the soundtrack-feel as it eminates the haunting vocal talents of Kelli Ali. However, the Depeche Mode vibe is revisited with All This Spite (Comes at a Price) but with a CWNN sensibility in this extremely pleasing track. The soulful balladeering then returns once more in Money’s Gone, with Boux’s trademark soothing synths and Stein’s mesomorphic silken tones which carry this beauty along, revisiting the lost spirit of Colin Vearncombe of Black.
The final track of this epic album is a synth-rich tune which finishes the album very much as it started, leaving you the listener feeling sated having been taken on rewarding journey that brings you to a final destination of well-being. It’s an album of contrasts which is serious yet playful, sarcastic yet cleverly en point. Electronic, acoustic, jazz-tinged and synth-heavy and everywhere in between.
❉ ‘Mediaburn’ by Cult With No Name, released 11 October 2019, is available for pre-order via Bandcamp in both CD and download formats.
❉ Ange Chan is a poet, author and frequent contributor to We Are Cult since its inception. Her current novel Champagne Flues and Pixie Boots is a work in progress that she hopes to see published in 2020.