Heisenberg, Moths, and The Archduke, a review of Corrections’ Simply Activity

Corrections is the product of Australian born Londoner Sam Nicholas. Self described (ironically) as a “post-post-punk” band, Corrections does push boundaries with a slight pop sensibility. They are definitely a post-punk/new wave band in the vein of The Smiths or the early works of The Cure. They are more experimental with their sounds. They create this wall of sound in most of their songs that does exactly what I want music to do, invoke a feeling. I find myself in foreign places during these songs. Places that are unfamiliar and beautiful and maybe a little scary even. “Emotional landscapes” to quote a strange Icelandic forest nymph.
You can find an interview John did with Sam here.

How we define genres is such a mess to me that I honestly could care less. This is an album, of music, by some guys in London. This is what I think of the advanced copy I was sent to review.
Choose your own genre!

It’s an adventure for everyone!!
I am going to digress into some silly pseudo-intellectual ramblings during this review about perception and the act of reviewing an artists work and how it could possibly have strange consequences in the future. All of this is nonsense. It’s just where my head went when I was thinking about this and so I am going to include it.
Call it a thought experiment.
(I was sent a link to a private SoundCloud for this particular album. I say this to clarify that titles may change, songs could be mixed differently, omitted or completely changed even when the full album is released next month. I have no way of knowing for sure if what I listened to is the finished product or not.)

Corrections new release is called “Simply Activity” A name that suggests they don’t take this too seriously. They are making music they enjoy because they enjoy it. This is love. There are no strings attached. The way it should be.

It begins with “Seven Hanged” a reference to the Russian novella “The Seven Who Were Hanged” a piece of literature that supposedly had some responsibility in starting WW1. Fairly heavy subject matter to be labeled “simply activity” I know but stay with me a little here. I have to admit that I have a little trouble understanding some of the more important lyrics in this one but the imagery does suggest this could be the theme. This song is phenomenal. It pulses and rises like a wave, or the beginning of a day, a dark day, perhaps an execution day. Sam’s vocals hide in the forefront simultaneously taking center stage while appearing to dissipate into the rising tide of the wave of sounds that wash over you and then pull back into the ocean of synth and noise. It’s a wonderful opener and one of my favorite songs on the album.

The second track “If I’m Being Inappropriate” is a pop ballad. How do you follow such an impressive opener? Corrections does this with their best song to date. A beautiful love song with just the right amount of pop and shoegaze. If you told me this was a long lost Smith’s tune I would believe you. However I don’t want to give the impression it is not unique, because it is truly unique. It is unique in spite of the chorus using probably one of the most common chord progressions in music. An achievement I find incredibly impressive. Everything about this song is enjoyable. You can feel how much fun they are having. This is what happens when vision and execution collide perfectly. I am not embellishing at all when I say this is my favorite song of the new decade so far.

Then “Diaphora” a song named after a wooly caterpillar who turns into a beautiful and interesting species of moth. It has a single line “How will I know if I’ve made it?” Is this a question about art in the modern age? In the realm of SoundCloud and self produced artists how do we define success now? How do you define success in this culture? This song always refers me back to the album title. The answer seems to be obvious. You don’t. Does the moth remember the caterpillar? It becomes subjective. What is music to you? As an artist who are you writing for. You make music you love and you hope that others see what you see in it. It’s another way we connect with each other. It is about community and perception. It helps us to feel not as alone. Some people hate the state of the music industry today (if you can call it that) I don’t. It is now truly a labor of love. There are fewer delusions today. You make music simply as activity. You hope someone else enjoys it but I doubt many musicians today honestly believe this is going to make them rich these days.

“Comes Undone” follows. A song that throws back to the darker of The Cure’s material (Bloodflowers, Pornography, etc.) This song closes out the first half of the album. I don’t have as much to dissect in this one. It’s honestly just a good song.

Ok. So now I am going to digress some. This is where listening to this record started me down a thought process I haven’t been able to shake. This began as I slowly realized that I don’t like the second half of the album that much. Corrections is an experimental band. They take chances. They explore. They take risks. As anyone who takes risks, sometimes they don’t pay off. The second half lacks cohesiveness. It’s abrasive without finding enough of a foothold to be interesting. The mix falls apart, it gets crowded. It over compensates. The walls of sound that I enjoyed so much in the first half start to feel constrictive. Like they are closing in on me. It makes me want to escape. To skip. To go back.

Even lyrically it starts to falter. “The wisest words are generally the most absurd.”

Are they??

I don’t think they are. Absurdity doesn’t mean depth. It is a common trick of those who want to sound deep while spouting nonsense. The illusion of depth. I experience this all the time. However, I do also experience the opposite. Things that sound good but upon inspection are actually absurd.

There is so much going on in these last few tracks that it just muddles itself. It comes so close at times but then falls apart. It loses steam musically, becoming sporadic and confusing.

Then I started thinking about how much I liked the first half of the record. This band has not even given us their best material yet and I am so excited about their future.

So I started wondering about writing this review.

Should I even mention the second half? What are the chances they read this? What if they only focus on the negatives of my impotent opinion?

This brought me to a more post-modern thought about the act of a review, and to the “Uncertainty Principle.”

If you don’t know what that is here is a short video from a very underrated Cohen Brothers film that explains it very well.


Now I know that I am not some giant of the industry or even an ant, but what if they read this? What if simply by observing this album and writing about it I have altered the trajectory of the band? Let’s say they read this and even though they try to choose to ignore the criticism, they can’t. Is that even possible? Every critique I’ve ever heard of anything I’ve done has affected me. Affected my decisions. Affected how I work. I am conscious of it without my consent. Heisenberg states that we can never understand reality because simply by observing it, we alter it. How many artists have been lost in the ether due to a bad review they couldn’t shake? Stuck constantly doubting themselves because some talentless hack said something that struck a nerve. Then again, sometimes we need perspective. Sometimes we are too close to our own work to know what it lacks, or what it needs. Certain critiques have absolutely changed me for the better. Opinions are plentiful and there is no accounting for taste.

Thinking about this has the possibility to turn one into a hermit. A scared and pitiful creature who refuses to do anything because the fear of creating irreparable damages cripples their every thought. This is no way to live. So I wrote it all. This is, after all, just one mans opinion.

So let me conclude with this.

I absolutely love the first half of this record. It’s so refreshing and nostalgic, new and familiar. It’s everything I want music to be.

The second half leaves a lot to be desired. It has its high points but there is so much more that it could be.

Most importantly, I believe Corrections to be doing everything right at this point. I hope they don’t change a single thing about how they create and I can’t wait to hear more.

“The wisest words are generally the most absurd.” Did I say I disagreed with that? I think Heisenberg would have agreed, and he was a literal genius.

Shows what I know.

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