Debut album ‘The Dream Extortionists’ represents the fruits of 12 years’ of toil for East London-based musician Ian Williams, as he has slogged and battled across continents and with a range of pianos to compose a work designed to present ‘a dark and disturbing trip through the decaying and decadent last days of human civilisation, in an overpopulated world where nothing works, nobody is content, and the masses are controlled by a handful of billionaires…’ So, not some near-future dystopia, but the everyday present.
I see the faces of my co-workers in my day-job: their souls are crushed by the wheels of (tertiary) industry, privatisation has fucked pretty much every basic service, and climate change protesters are vilified by the mainstream media as ‘extreme’ simply for taking action in an attempt to have their voices heard after too long being ignored. In a world where the controllers of western ‘civilisation’ consider immigration to be more of a crisis than climate change and the self-perpetuated death throes of capitalism as it brays at the pain of diminishing returns.
Simple, repetitive, haunting motifs, echoing sparsely, paint a picture of emptiness – and perhaps while superficially these sedate compositions don’t much represent the blur of hyperspeed communications, the want-everything-yesterday pace of contemporary consumerism they do perhaps convey the sad emptiness of all of us forced to recreate the circumstances of our own alienation under late capitalism.
Then, the rapid and spectacular build to a towering crescendo just four minutes into the 20-minute opener ‘She Thought She Was Alone’ does in some way capture the pace of change and the ever-quickening rise and fall, boom and bust that has characterised the last 20 years or so. An imperial march reminds that there is no stopping the relentless tide of governments in the pockets of multinational corporations, while the quiet, lilting passages are but fleeting moments of respite that is but illusionary.
In places, cinematic strings and heavy-rolling piano combine in a style reminiscent of JG Thirlwell’s more recent Foetus output, and the dramatic tension is utterly thrilling, and contrasts with the aching melancholia of the more minimal passages.
Throughout, Williams demonstrates an immense sense of scale, which imbues the compositions with a sense of vast import, which is appropriate given the concept behind the album.
The two pieces which feature vocals – ‘And We Shall Never Know’ which features Claudia Barton, and ‘Viva la Revolucion!’ with Joumana Mourad – stand out on account of the obvious difference, which enhances the album’s dynamic. The former is a breathy, ethereal affair, with sweeping, graceful melody, contrasts with the clipped desperation of the spoken word snippets of the latter.
What Williams captures with remarkable aplomb and compositional dexterity is the sense of dislocation and separation which define our times. With magical, elegant melodies throughout, ‘The Dream Extortionists’ is both rich and sparse, evocative and other. In part, an album of the times, but more an album out of time, which strives to remind us that we’re out of time.