In a perfect world, Jacqui Ham’s work would need no introduction. She’d be deservedly renowned for her unconventional, yet cathartic, style of guitar playing. And not just for her guitar, but for her singing, a profoundly post-rock glossolalia that draws as much on jazz and blues influences as on the punk notion of throwing out the rule book and starting from scratch. Jacqui, a guiding force in primal No Wavers Ut , assembled Dial Dial in the early 90s with Rob Smith (ex-God, guitars, drum machine), Dom Weeks (Furious Pig, Het) on bass & synthesizer, and Lou Ciccotelli (Eardrum) on drums.
Dial’s music is characterized by a rawness, both emotional and musical, that lends it a furious immediacy. This tendency towards assaultive guitar din can give way at the most unexpected moments to surprising delicacy, as on the transfixing “Psychotrance,” a lustrous, cracked-mirror mantra in which Jacqui’s world-weary, jolie-laide coo fights against the fractured tide, her vocals spectral and brutal in equal measure. Exploiting tape hiss and the pitted, low-end patina of electrical interference, what is initially apocalyptically skuzzy-sounding becomes, via droning repetition and haunted keening, nearly sepulchral by song’s end. It’s a perfect entry point into Dial’s new album,168k [Cede], a blurred-out, ghost-in-the-machine howl that never once lets up.
168k is their third album, but it has a clarity and spaciousness that mark it as a move forward. While the group’s previous album, 2000’s Distance Runner, was at times far too rubbed raw and abstracted, 168k is a more incisive listen. Limning the fertile territory between abrasive noise and oddly meditative controlled chaos, the album even flirts—in its own fractured way— with pop song-form, be it on the aforementioned “Psychotrance,” the surging, incantatory “Soda Wars,” or the hardscrabble, coiled “Hey Condition.” Jacqui’s densely imagistic lyrics are sung with fitful, rhythmic tartness; her tempest-tossed wail rides the waves of contorted noise with assurance.
168k’s songs have an immensity of scale and space; they’re constructed with precision and move with monumental, glacial force. At times heavily claustrophobic —all looming intensity and livid emotion—the bruised landscape gradually gives way to something softer, less scorched-earth. But that’s no admission of complacency —simply a reminder that, if you listen carefully enough, there is beauty to be found here.
For previous albums, try Crucial Blast.
Dial, “Little Eye” (from Infraction, 1997)
Dial, “Psychotrance” (from 168k, 2007)