Obsessively edited and finalized over the past four years, this new side project of Whitehouse's William Bennett has certainly had its share of pre-release hype, and thankfully it exceeds the expectations I had for it. While there are a few similarities to his other work, there are also a great deal of differences to be heard, making it a distinctly different project.
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For those who haven't been following its creation, Cut Hands is Bennett’s exploration of traditional African percussion instruments, along with a tasteful amount of processing and synthesizer accents. It might seem like a shocking shift, but it’s not. While Whitehouse have often been unfairly pigeon-holed as just a noise band with sexually explicit vocals, they definitely evolved into something much more complex and varied.
Bennett's interest in African percussion first found its way onto Whitehouse's Bird Seed album as "Munkisi Munkondi," which also appears here. The track still feels more indebted to noise rather than African percussion, but it was the clear start of this project. Actually, if rumors are true, Bennett himself is solely responsible for the Extreme Music from Africa compilation from 1997, putting the roots of Cut Hands all the way back then.
For better or worse, the African inspired tracks from the last three Whitehouse albums are included here, the aforementioned "Munkisi Mukondi," "Nzambi Ia Lufua" from Asceticists 2006, and "Bia Mintatu" from Racket. They stand out as a bit harsher in comparison to the new material, and they’re also already familiar to Whitehouse fans, but it makes sense to include them here in this context.
This new material might not have the same brutality as Bennett's other work, but it lacks none of the intensity. The complex polyrhythms of "Stabbers Conspiracy," for example, clatter with the rapid intensity of a gang of Somali warlords firing their black market AK-47s. Elsewhere, “Shut Up and Bleed” takes the same rapid fire percussion approach, but with the addition of raw and painful synth noise that is as abrasive as any of his other work.
The strongest pieces are actually, in my opinion, the more spacious, ambient ones. There's a certain cinematic drama conveyed in them, fitting considering some of these tracks appearing in a few documentaries previously. "Rain Washes Over Chaff" and its drumless reprise "Rain Washes Over Every Thing" utilize clipped synth swells and brass instruments to mimic the animal sounds of the jungle, creating exceptional tension throughout. "++++ (Four Crosses)" also drops the percussion entirely, using the digitally processed sound from the last few Whitehouse albums to create a shimmering, melancholy ambient piece that is actually quite beautiful.
Interestingly enough, some of the more mid-paced pieces, like "Impassion" could almost pass on a general "world music" compilation, not doing anything overtly abrasive or aggressive. Thankfully these moments are few and far between: too much of this would, to me, make this into a generic third world exploitation piece. Songs like they heavily layered "Ezili Freda" are the polar opposite, burying the percussion under layers of complex noise.
Too often when I hear "world music," I think either generic coffee shop ambience, indie kids trying to look hip ("I only listen to music from countries where they don't have electricity!"), or exploiting other cultures for the sake of appearing unique. Cut Hands has none of that. Not once did I feel like Bennett was trying to co-op African culture as his own, nor does it feel like any cry for attention by being "different." It simply sounds like an artist exploring a topic he is genuinely interested in out of pure love and fascination, with the result being captivating and unique.
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