Cult Party is the musical project of Manchester-based, multi-disciplinary artist, Leo Robinson. They recently released, And Then There Was This Sound, their first new material in a number of years. The album was recorded by Leo, alongside a crack team of Manchester musicians including the acclaimed talents of Kiran Leonard. The record finds Leo sounding more confident and ambitious than ever, his fluid, psych-influenced guitar playing combining beautifully with rich percussive notes to produce a sound equal parts delta-blues and meditative Indian-classic musical.
The elephant in the room is that the whole album consists of just four tracks, and over half the thirty-six minute running time is dedicated to the sublime opening track, Hurricane Girl. Beginning with just Leo, his croaked vocals and expressive guitar work, the track then twists and turns throughout. Leo’s words paint pictures, blurry but undeniably brutal, whether it’s the way he, without explanation, almost offhandedly repeats the line, “they warned about a flood”, or paints the most visceral of pictures with the line, “I cut your throat and watched the flowers spilling out, they crumble out your mouth as you sink into the snow”. Musically it’s just as intriguing, breaking down to a lone violin, or picking up to driving communal crescendos, the clever use of the rise and fall more akin to A Silver Mt. Zion than the folky-troubadours he is so often compared to. Strangely for such a dominant part of the record, it doesn’t feel that all-encompassing, the other three tracks carrying just as much musical weight. Recent single, I Had The Blues This Morning, brings out the Bill Callahan-like baritone croon in Leo’s vocals, while Rabbit Dog is reminiscent of Josh T Pearson’s solo work before he had a shave and put on a pristine white suit. And Then There Was This Sound is a frankly remarkable record, the way it seems to be flowing effortlessly by and then suddenly grabs you with an idea that demands your attention, whether it’s a lyrical pronouncement or a burst of musical mastery. Daring, progressive and timeless, it might just be the best record we’ve heard this year.
FTR: For those who don’t know, what is Cult Party?
LR: Cult Party is essentially a place for all my songs to exist. It began about seven years ago when I was just a weird kid making tapes in my bedroom. I was probably writing three or four songs a week at that point; I wasn’t precious about anything, I was just making music for myself and to maybe show my friends. It just kind of expanded outwards from there. I moved from Stoke on Trent to Manchester before too long and realised people actually cared about what I was doing. The live ensemble has taken more forms than I could possibly remember, but right now it’s as close to being a ‘band’, in terms of consistency, as it’s ever been.
FTR: What can you remember about your first show?
LR: Ha. Looking back, all my early shows in Stoke were so strange. The music scene there is really split into nostalgic indie bands and like brutal hardcore stuff. And then a few singer/songwriters, a label that I really strongly rejected at the time. Every show I played there seemed to leave half the crowd really confused. My first show was at a place called The Underground – I was playing solo and I remember having loads of distortion on my guitar and opening the set by playing one chord for about 5 minutes. I’m pretty sure most people went to smoke out the back at that point. I was a lot more into Sonic Youth back then, so I used to do a lot of noisy guitar stuff – I’m pretty sure I did a full on doom metal bit at some point in that set. I’m think I was just trying to piss people off, I was very frustrated with what was and wasn’t happening artistically in the city and so just embraced doing the total opposite.
FTR: Art seems to be at the centre of your life, why do you make music?
LR: Because art is at the center of my life. Your ears need art too! It’s all just ways of presenting ideas and telling stories and trying to communicate feelings that you otherwise couldn’t. In fact I started playing music about 10 years before I even considered being a visual artist.
FTR: What can people expect from the Cult Party live show?
LR: If it’s in the next few months they can expect violins and big vocal harmonies and drones and handmade costumes. We have these pumpkins that Alkmini’s grandfather dries and paints in his garden in Greece, we used them as percussion and danced around with them at the last show. The live set-up is very fluid though. It could be anything.
FTR: What’s next for Cult Party?
LR: My record came out recently. I have a few shows coming up and am in the process of booking more. I haven’t really looked any further into the future than that. I’ve never really had a long term plan. Maybe I’ll write another record soon!
They Listen To…
1.OOIOO – UMO
There was a week in the winter where I was stayed in my studio until about 4am every night, I was working on a sculpture and I would go out in the night and scurry around Salford industrial estates, looking for wood and other materials. I was listening to this album a lot and kind of reveling in the intensity of the whole thing. It’s a drummer from Boredoms and some other people. They’re a great band, tribal and ecstatic.
2. Don Cherry – Brilliant Action
I’ve been playing the drums a lot recently, I guess free jazz kind of stuff. It’s a pretty effective as both exercise and therapy. It’s definitely made me appreciate Ed Blackwell’s playing on this record, and just jazz drums in general. And Don Cherry is kind of a hero of mine. All his music feels like ritual or worship. Even at this point, before there was a conscious spiritual aesthetic, or before he made what was later described as ‘world music’ (gross) or ‘ethno-jazz’ (more gross), it still has the feeling of ceremony.
3. Philip Tabane – Phamba Madiva (big river)
My friend Lucien showed me this guy recently. Apparently his band played these drums that are made from trees very specific to a region of South Africa. I like the idea of local ecology playing a part in music. And all his music is incredible. It can put me in a really elated state, there’s definitely some magic in it.
4. Lonnie Holley – Mama’s Little Baby
Lonnie Holley is an excellent poet, singer and sculptor. He manages to put his full self into all his creations, all his perspectives and troubles at once – artists who can do that are always the ones I look up to the most.
5. Ivor Cutler – Nobody Knows
I got into Ivor Cutler through a book of his poems called LARGE et Puffy. It kind of reminded me of Brautigan. Then when I heard his music it had all the same beauty and absurdity, and his whole look, with the harmonium and funny hats and flowers… I dunno, I just love the warmth of his music and character. It was hard to pick just one song of his as they’re all so good!
And Then There Was This Sound is out now via Icecapades. Click HERE for more information on Cult Party.
Cult Party play a free show at London’s Lock Tavern tonight, click HERE for more information.