Originally released as a limited edition cassette last year, Lisa Cuthbert's 'Hextapes' is now receiving a vinyl reissue in 2017... so it's analogue all the way in a move that seemingly eschews any digital format (although, ironically, it's been made available for review in the MP3 format!). Press blurb informs that Cuthbert has worked as a vocalist in one capacity or another for the likes of The Sisters of Mercy, Draconian, Duncan Patterson and Helevorn, as well as "appearing alongside King Dude, Wovenhand, Ulver, and Marillion"... some impressive credentials... I guess... as it doesn't actually expand on her involvement with said acts. Still, based on the music on 'Hextapes', this is of little significance, as Cuthbert is a fine musical force in her own right.
Her combination of drone-drenched gloom, injected with a Celtic-swayed optimistic/melancholic duality, makes for a hauntingly atmospheric listen. While this is heavily melancholic in parts, the drone underpinnings of certain tracks make 'Hextapes', on occasion, more of a moribund experience. That's always been my problem with straight drone... its sonically depressive and darkly oppressive inherence is... well... just incredibly depressing. Sure, I used to listen to Earth et al on and off, but only when the mood took me. However, as with other certain genres of music, I admire finely crafted fusions. Different takes on erstwhile generic traits by infusing them with idioms from other genres. And, this is where the more downbeat tracks on 'Hextapes' are elevated above their drone foundations. Some of the Celtic elements that've been introduced into the mix are a sheer delight, particularly when combined with Cuthbert's ethereal voice. There's still a prominent feeling of a depressive decline into doomy depths of dispiriting sounds, but embellished and laced with a certain melodic charm, where glimpses of light can be detected, shining through the darkness. Some tracks have very minimal or no trace of a fuzzy drone sound at all - like 'Will', 'Effigy', 'Pillar' - which are all about pure atmospheric delectation.
There's a nice organic feeling to the whole thing, which I guess is partly derived from Cuthbert's use of what's stated to be "lo-fi techniques and home-recorded samples of howling wind and rain beating against the window." 'Hextapes' has a beautiful rawness to it, and a raw beauty, which sounds every bit authentic as the press blurb would have you believe. If you can get to grips with some of the more drone-heavy tracks (which, when I've been in the right mood to engage with them, have revealed their own latent beauty), then 'Hextapes' is well worth checking out.
Review by Mark Holmes
25th August 2017
1) Killing Fields
2) The Host Wants a Parasite
3) Under the Stars
8) Hands Clean
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN:
"Her combination of drone-drenched gloom, injected with a Celtic-swayed optimistic/melancholic duality, makes for a hauntingly atmospheric listen."