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Container, "Scramblers"

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cover imageRen Schofield might be living in a new country (England) and releasing music on a new label (Alter), but no one need worry about those differing circumstances having any impact at all on the single-minded and relentless brutality of his work as Container.  That said, Scramblers is (rightly) billed as a more "high-octane" incarnation of Schofield's punishing aesthetic, as it evolved directly out of his aggressive live performances.  To some degree, such a statement is largely academic, as just about every Container album has felt like the techno equivalent of a runaway train, but it is true that this particular album offers virtually no breaks at all in the intensity of Container's splattering and pummeling rhythmic assaults.  That is just fine by me, as Schofield's primal violence is consistently executed with surgical precision and visceral power, but more casual fans may find themselves wishing that Container would someday evolve further beyond the mercilessly one-dimensional onslaught of previous albums.

Alter

Longtime Container fans were likely gobsmacked to learn that Schofield was finally releasing an album that was not simply titled LP (a title he has used for all four previous full-lengths), so that particular change may be actually the most dramatic and unexpected evolution in evidence with Scramblers.  Schofield was inspired to make that bold leap by the dual meaning that the word "scramblers" has for him, as it references both "a Baltimore street drug" and a diner that he used to frequent with his father.  According to Schofield, the intent was to "pay homage to a nice name that lends itself to both depraved and wholesome contexts and do my part to carry on the tradition."  Despite that sentiment, any real trace of wholesomeness on Scramblers seems to begin and end with the title, as the album is essentially a wall-to-wall onslaught of punishing beats and gnarled electronics.  While the album's description name-checks EVOL and Ruff Sqwad and describes Container's music as "techno," Schofield is entirely in a class of his own for a couple of reasons.  The first of those is his stripped-down and primitive approach to gear (a Roland MC-909, a four-track portastudio, and some pedals), which is no doubt a lingering vestige of his past as a noise artist.  Another likely vestige from those origins: these eight songs ("recorded, mixed and mastered in one day") are lean, mean, and unembellished by anything resembling hooks or melody.  The other unusual element of Container lies in the nature of Schofield's beats, which make Scramblers far feel more akin to punk or metal than dance music: these songs certainly inspire motion, yet they seem much better suited to whipping up a frenzied pit than they do for any attempt at more traditional, rhythmic dancing. 

I would love to know how Schofield himself differentiated these songs or chose their titles, as they are all built from the same minimal components and share a similar feeling of explosive spontaneity.  If I had to guess, I would say there is zero chance that any of these pieces could be played the same way twice.  And, since there are no melodies, prominent hooks, or especially significant variations in the pummeling, stripped-down beats, the main differences between the pieces lie almost entirely in the character of their electronic noise squalls or how radically Schofield disrupts their rhythmic flow.  That is not a grievance, mind you, as listening to Scramblers is lot like getting repeatedly run over by a truck: the superficial characteristics of the truck are entirely secondary to the force of the impact.  Nevertheless, I have some personal favorites, such as the chirping and squelching groove that emerges from the noisy intro of "Ventilator," steadily building in gnarled, bulldozing, and bass-heavy intensity.  Elsewhere, the relentless title piece erupts into a psychedelic spray of bubbling synth tones, then jettisons just about everything to lock into a cool bass and drum breakdown.  The half-rolling/half-galloping "Duster" is another highlight, as the dense, grizzled synths blossom into a wonderfully plunging and blurting crescendo.

There are plenty of other great moments strewn throughout the album though, as Schofield's whirlwind day of recording did not preclude a host of killer twists, visceral climaxes, and adventurous rhythmic permutations.  As a whole, Scramblers manages to feel simultaneously tightly focused and gleefully deranged: it is a tour de force of relentlessly slicing cymbals, viscerally crunching beats, and rumbling bass tones that ruthlessly barrels forward without any piece overstaying its welcome or falling prey to self-indulgence.  The only real caveat is that such a description could just as accurately apply to just about every Container full-length to date, though Scramblers does amp up the frenzied intensity enough to feel like an evolution (an evolution that amusingly recalls the scene in Spinal Tap with the amps that go up to 11 rather than 10).  Beyond that notable upgrade in speed and power, however, Scramblers occupies a unique stylistic niche that lies somewhere between "soundtrack to a futuristic warzone" (particularly on "Haircut") and hyperkinetic dancefloor fare (even if the resultant dancing is likely to be quite frenzied and spasmodic).  Obviously, Schofield's tireless devotion to such a constrained and one-dimensional aesthetic means that Scramblers is unlikely to win over anyone who was not already a fan of previous Container albums, but there is something quite endearing and noble about an artist this committed to simply getting better and better at one specific thing with each new release.

Samples can be found here.

Last Updated on Monday, 11 May 2020 07:04  


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