Compared to the relatively capacious archival revelations of Can, a band with roughly comparable working practices, the posthumous pickings from This Heat have been cautiously selected and exceedingly sparse. In 1993 a three-song CD emerged – including a 33 1/3 version of “Graphic/Varispeed”, which has been deemed surplus to requirements on this year’s digital release. The remaining two tracks are extended exercises, each exceeding the 20-minute mark, that show the band exploring aspects of their sound. There’s enough here to whet an – apparently forever to be unsatisfied – desire to hear more of This Heat’s stray experiments. On the other hand, the EP perhaps suggests that little of significance remains to be unearthed.
“Repeat” is both the core of the release and also the most familiar piece: it’s essentially a deconstruction and extension of the drum rhythm-based matter of “24 Track Loop” from their 1979 debut. The back-and-forth cutting calls to mind the strategy used on other songs like “Vertical Hold” or “Health and Efficiency”, where they had no hesitation in stopping and restarting the track someplace new or conjoining separate sections. There’s also a hint toward the far more fluid and deftly accomplished mixing done by early hip-hop DJs but clearly without the interest in danceability or keeping crowds happy.
If your tastes lean toward the danceable, there’s something here in the song’s relentless shape-shifting and the playing out of percussive ideas to their endpoint. Around the halfway mark, there are hints at the drone work achieved on “Graphic/Varispeed”, after which the piece starts to achieve a degree of lift-off as the manipulations become more overt. Ultimately, if you like the sound of looped percussion being periodically derailed, you’ll be happy. More broadly, it makes the point that This Heat weren’t just a jam band pumping out compositions based on the hand of chance. They seem to have meticulously gone over each piece to find favored approaches to the altering and amendment of sound. It goes some way to explaining the relatively tight and efficient discography released given it indicates significant time spent getting even the wildest sounding moments to a precise point of satisfaction.
“Metal” is like eavesdropping on the world’s most rhythmic building site as various metals are tapped, clinked, thumped and rapped. Every five minutes or so, the track takes a detour. Editing cuts a new thought in to replace the old, which fades out or is simply wrenched aside. While the evidence of post-performance tampering is audible, “Metal” is very much a performance, the tangible interaction of musician and material. It shares a compositional impetus with “Repeat” in that a fairly stable set of sounds is explored to a certain degree of exhaustion, then replaced relatively abruptly with the cut-lines allowed to show. In terms of an overall arc, there isn’t much of one, though maybe one could say that the final passage of “Metal” is more subdued and more distant. It’s more about existing inside of distracting sound rather than going on a scenic journey with it.
This Heat certainly experimented and improvised but – other than the 12 minutes of “Graphic/Varispeed” – it was rare for them to go much beyond pop chart durations. That’s where both “Metal” and “Repeat” intrigue, given they show the band loosening the reins and letting compositions spiral outward. It also shows two differing approaches: the manipulation of a sound source, the other the excerpting of material to create a casual suite. Given the obvious instrumental command and assuredness of their playing and the obvious thought that has gone into structuring their albums, it’s perhaps a little disappointing that the two pieces indicate extended processes but not much interest in compositional progression or development. Both these recordings reside in an ambient space where ideas linger a while then depart, where sounds alter and change, but there’s not really an engaging narrative to contain them.