Is Current 93’s city set upon a hill?

CURRENT 93: If A City Is Set Upon A Hill

Release year: 2022
Label: HomAleph

Current 93 are, of course, legends and icons of industrial, post-industrial, neofolk, apocalyptic folk and experimental music of all stripes. Throughout their lengthy discography, the group led by David Tibet have explored, defined, deconstructed and defied genres, scenes and styles in a manner few have. Coming out from the other side is music that cannot be pinned to any genre. Current 93’s music is… well, it’s currentninetythree music.

If I’m being honest, and why wouldn’t I?, I’m very picky when it comes to Current 93. A lot of their discography does nothing for me, some of it irritates me no end, some of it I just don’t get, and some of it I really, truly, deeply like. It took me a long while to get used to Tibet’s characteristic vocal style, but more than that it’s the sheer experimentalism of some albums that just pushes all the wrong buttons for me. But I guess that’s the nature of experimental music – sometimes things just don’t click. Or click in wrong ways.

I’ll also openly admit that few of the more recent works of Tibet & Co. have stuck with me. Just not my cup of tea. So I admit – my, how much I’m confessing here! – that I was a bit surprised when the advance video track of the album, If A City…, hit home immediately. And, I’m happy to say, the rest of the album doesn’t disappoint, either.

In many ways, this is typical Current 93. Even in the sense that you possibly didn’t expect it to sound like this. Or maybe you did? But it’s also not typical Current 93, at least not how I’d describe what I’d have expected from Current 93 anno 2022. The album is unexpectedly intimate, sorrowful, melancholic and in the raw. The tracks feel like Tibet is really baring something for the world to see on If A City Is Set Upon A Hill, in a way not common in any kind of music.

Musically, the album is a tender mixture of acoustic instrumentation – violin, piano, acoustic guitar, etc. – and electronics, but the overall feel of the album has the softness and intimacy of acoustic music. Where some Current 93 works have flirted with psychedelic elements and naivistic children’s storybook imagery, the atmosphere of this album is strikes one as more somber and personal. Of course, Current 93 being Current 93, not all of the playfulness and childishness has been shed, as has not the weird symbolism.

But what most of all characterises this album to me is the tender, intimate sorrow it emanates. With slow songs, repeating themes and languid tempos, the instruments paint abstract images of sadness, loss and relinquishment – like a vision carried inside the heart for years is finally laid to rest, unfulfilled. And yet there is a sensation of hopefulness on the album as well: the beauty to be found inside the act of letting go, the poignancy and grace of it.

Of course, my reading of the music may be off the mark completely. Does it matter, if it is?

Over these beautifully crafted, arranged and played compositions Tibet not so much sings as recites his lyrics, again full of the abstract (christian) mysticism one can expect from him, laden with symbols and references that probably do not make sense to anyone but Tibet. But that’s, of course, part of the charm, the mythology of Current 93. And, like in the music, I sense a sadness and melancholy in Tibet’s performance, tempering the playfulness so often present in his delivery.

If A City Is Set Upon A Hill is a grower. It starts out good, but gets better with further spins. It’s not only that the music and arrangements are beautiful, and that this abstract sadness fits Tibet. No, it’s in the structure of this album, in how Current 93 returns to themes, both musical and lyrical, evolving them further and with different arrangements, giving them a interpretations. It gives the album a magical sort of cohesion, a feeling of being something greater than its individual parts.

As such, naming favourite tracks or particular highs or lows is an excercise in futility. This is one of those albums you put on, concentrate on, and listen to in one go. Multiple times.

Visit Current 93 on their website, Bandcamp or Facebook

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