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Mr. Tophat - Dusk to Dawn Music Album Reviews

The Swedish producer and frequent Robyn collaborator offers an ambitious three-album suite of understated, occasionally disquieting techno nocturnes.
Hardcore Robyn fans already know the work of Swedish producer Rudolf Nordström, aka Mr. Tophat. He co-produced “Baby Forgive Me” and “Beach2k20,” two of the gorgeous, gently filtered house-pop tracks from last year’s Honey; his own 2017 release Trust Me, a three-song, 35-minute EP of throbbing, desaturated grooves, featured Robyn throughout. His latest solo release, Dusk to Dawn, is an ambitious three-album suite of understated, occasionally disquieting techno nocturnes. More melodic than the distortion-warped A Memoir From the Youth, two and a half hours of mostly chill, mid-tempo house conceal interesting moments within slack expanses. At its best, it’s a triple-album endurance listen that rewards partial concentration; at its slowest, it’s an illustration that Tophat’s signature long-format tracks don’t scale.

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Nurse With Wound - Homotopy to Marie Music Album Reviews

Decades after its release, the industrial innovators’ newly reissued masterpiece sounds as terrifying as ever—and claims its place in history as a bridge between generations of avant-garde art.

Among the old gods of industrial music, Nurse With Wound reign over the dreamworld. While Throbbing Gristle and Whitehouse often bludgeoned listeners with lyrics that captured real-life horrors, Steve Stapleton’s haunted tape-loop collages infect the subconscious before dissolving like nightmares. A painter first, Stapleton’s greatest inspirations are Dada and surrealism. Like Dalí, he draws directly from dreams, and his ability to sublimate an everyday object into a new form is reminiscent of Magritte’s hypnotically impossible images and Duchamp’s absurd readymade sculptures. In England’s Hidden Reverse, David Keenan’s essential profile of the UK avant-garde, Stapleton makes the connection explicit: “Nurse music is surrealist music.”

Though it has likely inspired plenty of nightmares, Nurse With Wound’s cavernous, newly reissued 1982 masterpiece Homotopy to Marie feels more like sleep paralysis, the hallucinatory, locked-in state in which the mind wakes up before the body. Everyday sounds—barking dogs, TV transmissions, children’s toys, and the wooden creaks and metallic clangs that can sound so alarming in the middle of the night—stretch to form monstrous shapes, while conceptions of time become painfully distorted. The album pummels and manipulates and even laughs at you. It’s the rare record that plays the listener.

Marie is technically Nurse With Wound’s fifth album, but many (including Stapleton) have called it their debut. Formed in 1978 as a trio, the group originally included Heman Pathak and John Fothergill, friends who shared Stapleton’s love for the krautrock of Can and Amon Düül II, the noise freakouts of the Velvet Underground, and Frank Zappa’s studio trickery. When he met an engineer who wanted to record experimental acts, Stapleton claimed to have a band. Despite the fact that they did not play, or even own, instruments, Nurse With Wound were soon recording their first album, Chance Meeting on a Dissecting Table of a Sewing Machine and an Umbrella. Every subsequent project until Marie was a product of chaos. Both of Stapleton’s bandmates would quit by 1980, leaving him alone to record Nurse With Wound’s third album, Merzbild Schwet. Insect and Individual Silenced followed, with contributions from J.G. Thirlwell, but Stapleton hated it so much, he burned the masters.

Marie marks the first time Stapleton sounds confident alone in the studio—and in his extramusical approach to music-making. Newly free of intra-band tension, he took his time, booking overnight sessions at London’s IPS Studios every Friday for a year and sometimes inviting friends and collaborators to stop by. Stapleton has described this period as “the happiest time I ever had in the studio.”

Long gone is the krauty guitar work on Chance Meeting, but Stapleton makes no effort to fill his former bandmates’ empty space. Album opener “I Cannot Feel You as the Dogs Are Laughing and I Am Blind” begins with metallic crackling and later erupts into hellish screams, but the track is wrapped in stillness and space. Stapleton’s mastery of both extremes far outweighs any typical quiet/loud dynamics. The silence makes you feel hunted. For a record so influential to noise music, Marie is just as effective at making you scan its soundless void for textures and threats. Sometimes apparitions approach; occasionally they attack. The most disturbing moments on “I Cannot Feel You” aren’t the agonized screams but the gentle sounds placed before and after them: a heavy sigh that suggests you’re not alone and then soft yet decidedly animalistic chewing.

Each of Marie’s lengthy passages offers grim imagery steeped in sex and violence. The title track crafts a disturbing exchange between a young girl’s abstract, yet increasingly threatened, statements and a matriarchal voice repeating the same gaslighting command: “Don’t be naive, darling.” “The Schmürz” begins with a hypnotic, looping male chant, evoking fascist images in a way that is uncomfortably soothing.

The highlight of the reissue is its centerpiece, “Astral Dustbin Dirge,” which was removed from vinyl editions due to time constraints and now appears on wax for the first time. The track is a symphony of ghoulish moans, slowed down enough to distort any hint of humanity before splintered screams cut through like a Todd Edwards house vocal edited in hell. Sex subsumes violence as the moans speed up to resemble orgasmic, feminine gasps. Such transfigurations occur throughout the album: On brief closer “The Tumultuous Upsurge (Of Lasting Hatred),” a choked death rattle becomes a chorus of children’s toys laughing maniacally into the silence.

Nurse With Wound’s history is clearly tied to surrealists and experimentalists of the past; the list of influences included on Chance Meeting has become a sacred text of noise music. But this essential reissue demonstrates how Stapleton’s legacy persists into the present—and not just in the foundational mark his albums left on noise acts as different as Whitehouse, Wolf Eyes, and Death Grips.

Marie’s patchwork construction, pieced together through multiple studio sessions, is echoed in labors of love such as Talk Talk’s Laughing Stockand even Wilco’s Yankee Hotel Foxtrot (a comparison that sounds less crazy when you consider that producer Jim O’Rourke both worked on the latter album and collaborated with Nurse With Wound). Nurse With Wound described their work early on as “sound sculpture” rather than as music, a term that has since stuck to Oneohtrix Point Never. And the ghostly power that Stapleton conjures through manipulating voices on tape, Dean Blunt and Inga Copeland summoned with the obscure internet videos they sampled as Hype Williams. It all reframes Homotopy to Marie as not just one of industrial music’s most important documents, but a bridge between two generations of the avant-garde. Once heard, the album’s nightmarish power and suffocating atmospheres can never be forgotten. Consider that a warning.

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