Wrangler – A Situation: Album Review

Release: 28th February 2020

Label: Bella Union

Formats: CD / LP / DD / DSP

As the name suggests, the project came together with the idea of wrestling (or wrangling) new sounds from ‘outdated’ equipment. Wrangler have done this with absolute aplomb. It manages to feel both like a time capsule from a bygone era and a window into a future where analogue remains relevant. 

This theme of technology taking over is paramount to A Situation, and while it is sometimes handled a little archaically – Machines Designed (To Eat You Up) sounds as though written by someone with a 40-year-old view of artificial intelligence – it is a beautifully brooding set of ten songs that dials up the darkness compared to their previous full-lengths. It is not all doom and gloom though, Rhizomatic is a krautrock banger at the albums mid-point. Coming up for air just at the right time.

The opening track Anthropocene hit me square in the face like a piston straight out of a dystopian future realised in the 1980s. So much so that by the end of my first listen I barely knew what had just happened. I had a mish-mash taste of Kraftwerk, John Maus and Edgar Froese swirling around my palette, but other than that first track I barely felt I had heard a thing.

Had Stephen Mallinder (Cabaret Voltaire), Phil Winters (Tunng) and Ben Edwards (Benge) ‘shot their load too soon’ so to speak? In some respects. A Situation suffers at being helmed by such a tremendous opener, but in no way does it define what is a solid third outing by the supergroup. The trio were last seen collaborating with John Grant as Creep Show on their fun and much-lauded 2018 album, Mr Dynamite. Their work as Wrangler takes a much more serious tone.

There is a real intensity about A Situation, which could definitely be interpreted as a reflection of the passion the trio feel for this project. When anyone is described as a supergroup there is often the worry that one, if not all of the members will attempt to blend into the background offering little more than their name on future royalty cheques, but with Wrangler you can really feel the impact of all three contributors. Winters brings Tunng’s pop sensibility to the party, then there are the booming Cabaret Voltaire synths of Mallinder and finally the flawless production of Ben Edwards as the cherry on top. So despite all of the darkness and foreboding, at the centre of it all, there is a real warmth to this album.

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