Following the 1979 release of their adventurous album 154, Wire saw its individual members split up and take on various solo and side projects in the seven years that led up to their fourth album, The Ideal Copy. Colin Newman’s A-Z is the most well known and accessible of these solo efforts, having arrived within a year of 154. But Bruce Gilbert charted a strange and arty path of his own, forming avant industrial outfit Dome with Wire bandmate Graham Lewis, and delving into sonic abstraction and experimental soundscapes on a trio of solo releases, his most-heard release most likely being This Way, though few of them are that strongly trafficked or, for that matter, easy to find.
Previously unavailable in the United States, Gilbert’s second solo album The Shivering Man has received a 25th anniversary reissue courtesy of Editions Mego. The label affiliation alone should give the reader some indication that this album has much more in common with the experimental records of Jim O’Rourke, the ambient waves of Oneohtrix Point Never or the noise terror of Prurient than Wire’s streamlined punk rock and art pop. Then again, even though Wire kept a primary focus on songwriting throughout their career, they too indulged in bizarre electronic and spoken word pieces that, today, sound completely alien.
The seven pieces on The Shivering Man each act as their own abstract art installations, some of them minimal and detached, others more chaotic and layered, though sometimes there are multiple movements and varied, even seemingly separate progressions within one single track. “Angel Food” is one such behemoth, which goes through periods of repetitive, percussive clunks, but in its initial few minutes, takes a semi-melodic, atmospheric tack that sounds curiously like what some would label “dubstep” today. The title track, meanwhile, is more terrifyingly whimsical, if such a contradiction makes any sense. There’s an upbeat, messy aesthetic to it, but ultimately a very eerie one that grows more unsettling with time. “Hommage” has a propulsive electronic/industrial atmosphere, one relatively more accessible than the tracks that precede it, but for that matter, it’s much harsher and more antagonistic. And then there’s “Eline Cout II 6,” which features the rare vocal performance in a track that stands as the album’s simplest and most accessible.
That Gilbert has long played part in a revered and accomplished team of post-punk songwriters may seem all the more astonishing after a listen to The Shivering Man. This music is unsettling and confounding. It’s difficult and bizarre. It’s exciting and ever-evolving. And it’s remarkably ahead of its time. Moments of euphoria and inspiration arise throughout the album, no matter how obtuse or oblique. This is puzzling but ultimately rewarding material, and 25 years later, listeners finally get another chance to hear it.
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Dome – 1 & 2
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.