Few music discovery anecdotes start with “I was rugby tackled by a man in a cinema because he liked my T-shirt”, but discovering Lancashire oddballs Element starts like that for me. He was known as Dan The Fan by the band and was their chief advocate. Dan started leaving cassette tapes full of music outside my door. Among other strange cuts were tracks by an indefinable band, from his hometown.
This band spanned everything from alt-rock and prog excursions to electronic experiments. One crazy song he included was called ‘Cut Yr Face 4 Me’, a breakbeat explosion of sound with “for mash get Smash” alien vocals dancing with singer Jay Stansfield’s dulcet tones.
I discovered that it came from Element’s first release for Glasgow label Creeping Bent, a mini-album called ‘Sourblaster’, released in 2000. Their previous release on the label, the ‘Lord Aparts’ single, a ‘Faust Tapes’-style musique concrète cut up, had already gained John Peel’s interest, but ‘Sourblaster’ was something else again. Unexpected with every new tune, even the label weren’t sure what to do with it.
The trio of Stansfield, Karl Eden and Mark Tattersall had been experimenting together since 1994 and this release, for me, although maybe not their best, shows them at their unrestricted, experimental height. Nothing is sacred and nothing is out of bounds. It’s the sound of talented youth just giving stuff a go.
‘The Girls At The Biscuits’ is a fairly standard anthemic alt-rock number, albeit with added humour, while ‘Head Of Billy Steele’ starts whimsically as a piece of banjo-psych before exploding into fractured Pavement-style slacker indie.
‘Zyntax Error’ starts as a floating, ominous space-synth tune, its middle section brings in prog rock and then descends into electro doo-wop silliness. It’s a complete sonic patchwork and it is very much as mad as it sounds.
Weird, clattered percussion (apparently they used wheelbarrows, peaches and pens throughout the album) penetrates a nostalgic honky-tonk piano tune that is met with kazoo blasts and a funky breakdown, while ‘Plonking In Double You Major’ ends with a comical, drunken sing-along and dog barks, like you do. ‘V-Tagra’ starts as ambient electronic sound and bursts into life as a fuzzy noise rock/hip hop hybrid before the album ends with the 11-minute-plus ‘Digital People’ which is a stunning electronic-prog journey.
To this day, I’ve never been quite able to correctly describe this band, or this record and it’s always bound to divide opinion. But that’s what makes it so great and one of the most interesting recordings of the early 2000s. If a challenging, eclectic, mind-altering record sounds good to you, get on ‘Sourblaster’ immediately.