Celebrate The Bullet

Chester Hawkins
K516156 / 91044

A new vinyl release from Chester Hawkins, the one-man dark droner of Washington DC with his uniquely pessimistic and haunted vision…this one is quite the package, a seven-inch single that plays at 33RPM and gives ye over 14 mins of music, with a professionally printed cover and single-sided insert on card. The images, whose deeper significance we may revisit shortly, comprises “photographs of sacred sites and artifacts” provided by the artist himself. For the time being I’d like you to note the grey monochrome colour scheme. The music is excerpted from a larger release called Cops Need Serial Numbers (not heard by us), which Hawkins published in August 2019 as a USB stick; this too was a limited edition collectible, packaged in an “art box”.

Two pieces of live music to ingest and radiate, both recorded in Washington DC. The first seems to involve his familiar keyboard / synth / sequencer set-up, and once you get over its gloomy tone you realise there’s a subtle pulsebeat clopping along to hasten on our march towards an inescapable fate. This is the poppy, upbeat side of the record, resembling a much more minimal version of French 1970s electronic prog in the mode of Heldon or Space Art, only much more depressing. Flip to the longer B side, where Hawkins is consciously trying to deconstruct that most iconic of rock tropes, the live guitar solo. He does it with lapsteel guitar and feeds it through about a jillion effects, including a loopstation of some type. What results is more than just a processed, long-form, glorpy drone; it’s a well-knit blanket of ghostly eeriness, containing a multitude of shimmering details. The more you look into it, the more flying bats, insects and dragons can be seen. The slow rise-and-fall tone provides a structure to these eight mins, whether or not you’re aware of it. Reach the end of this evil trance session, and you’ll find the world around you has changed completely and you are now a sleeper agent in the pay of the CIA, your mind fully programmed and controlled, awaiting your orders to assassinate a head of state.

These “highly concentrated extracts” from the Cops album may have something to do with the “bullet” theme which is strongly emphasised on the cover here. Indeed the very track titles may be actual serial numbers taken from casings of spent cartridges. This isn’t to say Hawkins himself has been actually shot in the leg while fleeing from the law for his many crimes against society, but I take the whole thing as a metaphor for a very specific form of paranoia, a new kind of pain. The way that cutaway view of the bullet hangs over that innocent looking landscape goes beyond threatening, and takes us into a new realm of menace which has not yet been fully understood. I’d imagine Trump’s regime has instilled this menace; our turn in the UK, under Johnson’s insane band of Tories, won’t be long in coming.

I am also prepared to accept that the ‘Giant Food’ sign on the back cover is a sacred site for Hawkins, as he claims it to be; the arrangement of the trees, and the white grid markings on the asphalt, are particularly poignant. Not a single human being appears in these photographs, and on a good day I might claim that Hawkins is using his camera lens to imagine himself as an American 21st-century di Chirico. For the insert, on the other hand, the artistic role model is more likely to be Jeff Koons; it’s a photo of a resin cast of a kitschy, crying dog with long droopy ears, perhaps a souvenir prize from a funfair. The way it is framed and photographed, perhaps on a dresser near a mirror, gives it an unexpected charge. The same material in the hands of Jeff Koons would invariably end up cynical and banal, because Koons was a cynic and could only ever see the banality in everything. Yet here it’s strangely effecting, and genuine.

Chester Hawkins often puts a lot of care into his music and his packaging, and this one is no exception. From 12th September 2019.

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