perverts in white shirts - meaning what exactly?

lp / digital, 2022, Misanthropic Agenda, Houston.   Available

vinyl edition 100

Piws mwe


Perverts In White Shirts is a duo hailing from Zürich, Switzerland and consists of Dave Phillips and Nathalie Dreier. I’ve been aware of David Phillips for many years, initially from his metal and noisecore days with Messiah and Fear Of God respectively, and then from his experimental works since the middle 80s; a prolific and radical artist. Nathalie Dreier on the other hand contributed vocals on two of David Phillip’s previous albums 2012’s Abgrund and 2016’s Selective Memory / Perception, as well as visual art in four other releases. On top of that, Misanthropic Agenda constantly delivers amazing releases, so I was positively adjusted, even before listening. Meaning What Exactly? is the second album of the project, with its title being a homage to Coil. The album is a vastly sensual, mid to slow-paced work, partially electronic, partially acoustic- as well as merging these two disciplines. With the whole thing often heavy with dark atmospherics. Meaning What Exactly? is an amalgam of field recordings, sound manipulation, electronics, acoustics and vocals; this work is strongly based on vocals utilizing various expressions, concealed under a heavy veil of sonic layers. Furthermore, the duo collaborated with Bryan Lewis Saunders’s poetry for the second piece. This album resides in the post-industrial spectrum and that aesthetic is most evident. The bass and percussion could easily have escaped from recent works of -let’s say- Einstürzende Neubauten with each of its four pieces crafted with materials leaning to a more minimal approach. Meaning What Exactly? is not loud per se, but it is evolving loudly, exceptionally lyrical and at the same time, it is heavily saturated with a bass-oriented production, giving a real mass to its outcome. The sound production is tight and strong. Within there’s a bouquet of hypnotic storytelling where words are floating in a tamed sea of abstraction, overloaded with rhythm that sounds marvellously organic. The cinematic touches, the mesmerizing voice and all the above combined are delivered in a top-notch experimental work, which transgresses from industrial to minimal, to electro, to experimental. Buy from here and get lost in it!

(Karl Grümpe, Musique Machine, June 2022)

I’ll admit, I was struck by the name when this landed in my inbox. Success! With an insane number of submission emails day, I don’t even open most, let alone play the albums attached. But then I learned that PWIS is Nathalie Dreier – who’s interesting for her visual work as well as her audio – and Dave Phillips, who’s To Death I covered last year – which deepened my intrigue. And it’s one hell of a cover, too. Meaning What Exactly? is quite a different proposition – from pretty much anything, in truth. Presenting four lengthy compositions, it’s fundamentally an electronic album, but it’s far more than that, or anything. The title is a challenge, a query, a – what I keep hearing as a phrase in my corporate dayjob – a ‘provocation’. It comes down to ‘exactly’. The word is weighted; even without explicit emphasis, it feels emphasised, vaguely stroppy even. The addition is the lexical equivalent of a hand on hip, a raised eyebrow, a scowl, a sneer of condescension to a worker from another department who has no facts. ‘Yeah, do your research, bitch’, is what it says. And who really knows what it means, or what anything means? Exactly. And what this album means – exactly – I can’t quite fathom. The titles conflict with the contents, at least, based on my lived experience, on my reception. They say it’s a ‘dialogue mixing treated field recordings with organic acoustics and digital sources, brought together in long trance-inducing sessions of meticulous audio de/construction and philosophical debate’. But how much of that is apparent in the end product? Well, that’ debatable. ‘Pangolin’ is otherworldly eerie: a booming drum echoes out through a shifting reverberation of spine-shaking synths. It doesn’t readily evoke aardvark-like creatures, apart from perhaps in the final minute or so when Drier’s monotone vocals are replaced by snuffling barking sounds. It’s weird, but then, what did you expect? I don’t know what I expected, if I’m honest, but probably not this. This is dark, disorientating, disturbed and disturbing, and even more challenging for the absence of context. Meaning is the end product of intent, of purpose, and there’s no clear indication of where this is coming from, meaning we’re left to face the strange with no guidance. A grinding bass and muffled, muttering voices, whispering about fish all build to a hellish tumult of murmurs and doom-sodden low range hums and thrums, and nothing feels right. It’s awkward, and unsettling. You – certainly I – don’t really tune into the words delivered by Drier in her suffocating spoken word passages, not out of disregard or disrespect, but because all of it comes together to create a claustrophobic listening experience. Meaning What Exactly? is not an album you sit and dissect, or sit and comfortably disassemble or analyse. I find myself, instead, contemplating the meaning of meaning. ‘Us vs Us’ plunges into deeper, darker territories, with a grinding, driving bass worthy of Earth, propelled by thunderous sensurround drumming, with purgatorial howls echoing all around. It’s heavy, harrowing, and it’s that simple, tribal drum style that defines and dominates the eerie eleven-minute closer, ‘The House is Black’. The house is black and the atmosphere is bleak: the vocals are mangled and distorted and play out against a murky, fragmented, fractured backing, to unsettling effect. The beats are sparse, subdued, distant, yet taut, crashing blasts and ricochets. You make it want to stop. The clock is ticking. Your chest tightens. The nerve rise, jangling, fearful. It’s like walking through a graveyard at night, knowing there’s someone lese shuffling around nearby. Make it stop, make it stop! A crackle, a crunch. What is this, exactly? Perverts in White Shirts don’t only excavate darker domains, but scour and gouge their way into the darker, deeper territories where tension pulls tight and tighter still. It’s the sound of trauma, of suffocation. Meaning it feels like a direct passage to the depths, meaning it’s dark, uncomfortable, like it’s almost unbearable at times. Meaning it’s good.

(Christopher Nosnibor, Aural Aggravation, June 2022)

Posttraumatische Sounds, privatphilosophische Explorationen und drastische Selbstuntersuchung ergeben beim Zürcher Duo Perverts In White Shirts eine dunkel vor sich hinbrütende Mischung, die jederzeit explodieren könnte, es aber dann doch selten tut. Eigentlich nie. Das zweite Album von Natalie Drier und Dave Phillips, Meaning What Exactly? (Misanthropic Agenda, 20. Juni), baut auf die Kraft der Entfremdung und alles, was von Industrial und radikaler Kunst übrig blieb. Bauf auf Stille, Introspektion und Reflexion, nicht auf die im Schimpfluch-Umfeld, aus dem Phillips stammt, üblichere Katharsis.

(Frank P. Eckert, Groove, June 2022)