the dirt album cover
visit rgm


So, there I was, minding my own business and working from home furiously as you do (searches for “Rolling Eyes” emoji…) when I was offered the chance review Agitator, the long-awaited debut album from The Dirt. The duo comprises Jack Horner (who some of you might also know under his alter ego of Leon The Pig Farmer, wordsmith of some reknown around these parts) and Japanese multi-instrumentalist Sachiko, his partner in music, life, holidays to Japan and any other shenanigans that might come their way. Variously described as “Combining Psych, shoegaze guitars, loops, effects, distortion, percussion, electronic rhythms and abrasive spoken verse to full genre bending effect.”, that’s certainly intriguing enough for me to take on the job – let’s see what’s out there. 

The album comes in the usual array of formats, including a vinyl release that includes a different version of one track from the version on the CD or the download (one for the collectors amongst you, for sure, although the initial run of 25 that came with unique souvenirs from Jack and Sachiko’s most recent trip to Japan are LONG gone, sadly!) It’s released on Friday the 14th of April and will be accompanied by a launch gig at Manchester’s Peer Hat, supported by Bloodworm, Dim Imagery and Pray for Mojo, which will be an event not to be missed. Also, as Agitator is released on Stuart Corry’s Golden Believers Records, a label that prides itself in releasing only stuff that he likes (and he’s an excellent judge of an artist), you know it’s going to be something special. 

Reality V Normality starts with an eerie loop that makes you think of a dark doorway in a movie that makes you want to scream to the heroine, “Don’t go in!”, when all the time, you know she still will. “I’m living in a boombox of bureaucracy, and I’m staring at a scrapbook of unicorns and mirrors” – this is two minutes of vitriol that you have to listen to and make sure to go back if you think you’ve missed anything. Imagine the mutant offspring of Mark E. Smith and John Cooper Clarke and you might be 10% on the way to getting this track – “Visionaries are concealed in cargo containers, yet hope will shine bright in the dark” – for every negative, there is a positive, a fight, a refusal to back down – and above the clanging of that loop, you can hear every word crystal clear. I can only aspire to “Kick up leaves in Indian summers”. 

The intro to Power Junkie reminds me a little of The Charlatans’ “One To Another”, at least until the vocal kicks in at which point Jack starts to channel Shaun Ryder too (if Shaun Ryder sang through a megaphone at any rate) The looping guitar and percussion is insistent, not letting up for a second, grabbing you by the throat and demanding your attention – it’s impressive to think that this album consists only of live takes and in addition to appreciating the clarity of the vocals in the mix, I’m put in mind of the industrial sounds made by the likes of Yabba and Enola Gay as the angry message of “You dwell in ivory towers, trying to apportion blame. Thriving on a sense of power, and you never feel the shame” is blasted out. 

Crying Out Loud goes down a much more psychedelic path. The intro which (at least to my ancient ears) is reminiscent of Norman Greenbaum’s “Spirit In the Sky” includes some of those marvellous tinkly bells found in Joy Division’s “Atmosphere”, but there’s nothing tinkly about, “Let’s chase fox hunters into rat infested squalor” – this is an angry piece with much to say and six minutes and a bit in which to say it – “Evaluate those friendships born in darkened rooms – Flick the switch let’s illuminate the truths”. You come away feeling exhausted and energized, like you want to go out and shout at something, anything, just to feel real for a few moments – “Scream out loud or do you want to be that crowd – For crying out loud, come, stand up, be proud!” 

Rant Two continues down the psych path – what can I hear here – surely not the hissing syndrum from The Human League’s “Being Boiled”..? though surely it can’t be, that was 45 years ago… “Filtered face, worn out place, a bitter taste, remove without trace – Stand in line, marking time, the past was yours now the future is mine! – again the sense of futility is tinged with optimism and a refusal to back down. I’m drawn in completely and beauty of this track (and indeed of the album as a whole) is that you’re free to place your own interpretation on the lyrics, they’re more ideas than stories, a framework on which to build your OWN stories. Lyrics that make you think – whatever next? 

Outside Insider would have me gazing at my shoes for sure if I wasn’t wearing my slippers whilst writing this review. I am SO Rock ‘n’ Roll sometimes, you wouldn’t believe. This is another song of rebellion and resistance against the threat of being crushed – “Twenty years curtailment, tongue just tied in knots. Hands fused by gold cuffs, opinions buried in a box” mutates into – “I’ll fly like a butterfly – there’s no sting in this worker bee. I’ll rise above and I’ll kiss the sky – you’ll never bring me to my knees. If you manage to pause for breath between the lyrics, you may just note that the spaces in between aren’t filled with sound, nor do they need to be. Agitator defies expectations in that it uses just enough instrumentation to complement the lyrics without relegating them to second place – it’s insidiously burrowing into my subconscious and I don’t even know it’s happening (well, obviously I DO, because I’ve just written it, but you know what I mean) 

Bury Believers is an altogether darker proposition. “Alarm bells shriek, death bells toll, Huddle and cuddle, keeping us in the cold. They market the mayhem they flog it in hordes – they’re painting pictures on advert boards” paints a dystopian vision for which you don’t have to look too hard these days – just turn on your television, if you dare. Nor does there seem to be a way to fight back, rather we have to wait for “The incendiary solutions that will implode in time”. This is a hard listen, but listen you must, dear reader. Jack and Sachiko look at the world with an unfiltered eye and say what they see. It may not be pretty, but it’s always authentic. 

What’s the Story (Global Warming) paints a bleak, apocalyptic picture (a thirsty horse looking for an Oasis, if you will) of the undeniable damage that is being done to our planet: “Sticks and stones to survival, millennia to perfect a purpose. We’re now on a lap of honour – the rich and greedy have fucking cursed us”. Again the instrumentation is minimalist yet brutal, complementing the lyrics perfectly. Both in his role within The Dirt and in his alter ego as Leon the Pig Farmer, Jack displays a command of language that is breathtaking in its honesty and determination to get a message across, yet it’s the way in which the lyrics are supported by Sachiko’s sounds that grabs the attention – The Dirt are but two people, but no more are needed – between them, they make enough noise for everybody. 

Ignorance is Bliss is, thankfully a livelier piece, but its subject matter is no less challenging. Channelling the spirit of The Fall’s “Rowche Rumble” (how old even AM I?): “Do you know what it feels like to have your eyes sewn up? Do you know what it feels like to have your mouth slammed shut?” mutates into a shout to the world – or maybe just to one person: “Will you walk beside me in the darkest of my days, or d’you just want to lay beside me in the days of warm sunrays?” We all need someone to walk besides us in the worst of times, as well as the best of times (what the Dickens am I going on about now..?) 

I See catches The Dirt in accusatory mode – nobody seems to escape Jack’s vengeful eye on this one, but a few targets leap out in particular: “You’re eating off steel, slate and dried driftwood, will you still think this is trendy when you are older?” Sachiko’s guitar screams for dear life as it’s dragged through more effects than you can shake a (very big) stick at. “I see champagne socialists carry coffee chain cups, I see scripters devoid of senses. There’s an axe  made of wax that melts in your back, thrown by a tan leather clad tribute Elvis”. The imagery is bizarre, yet somehow within the context of the album as a whole, it all makes perfect sense. Agitator is the world of the outsider, the downtrodden, those without a voice and those with a few voices too many. 

Voting Booth opens joyously and you can almost imagine you’re back in 1989 lying on the floor at half past four, listening to the Stone Roses and watching the ceiling slowly revolving (or possibly quickly, who remembers now?) while you ponder the existential meaning of, “Unlock the gate to a new perception – a Pacman pursuit will offer new directions” – we’re taken on an almost seven minute journey into the weird and wonderful, but strangely, none of it seems weird at all. But it’s definitely wonderful. HELL, yeah. “We have auctioned off the human heart, to feed those starved of truth. The fake world has taken over, now in submission to the voting booth”. You have to just sit there and let this wash over you – resistance is futile. 

And so, to album closer Agitator. The opening guitar squeal puts me in mind of Bauhaus’s “Dark Entries” as it launches into the album’s final three minutes that may well exist down a Dark Entry, but which end proceedings on a note of hope and optimism: “Let’s light a thousand candles, from a single ferocious flame. Let’s form a wall that burns red raw, and snap that disgusting draconian cane”. In the world of The Dirt, nobody is going to go down without a fight – “Tear the dotted line… expose serrated teeth – WE ARE THE AGITATORS”. 

In some ways, reviewing Agitator has been a challenge to find the right words and imagery to convey what this album is about, but as a listen it’s one of the most accessible things I’ve heard in a long time. It’s dark, at some points downright terrifying, but there’s always the light at the end of the tunnel, the candle at the far end of a long dark landing. If you’re fortunate enough to be reading this before the 14th of April, then you’re lucky – get yourself down to the Peer Hat end experience The Dirt launch Agitator in all its dark glory onto an unsuspecting world. If that date has passed, grab yourself an earful of this fine body of work, but only when you can give it your full and undivided attention – it deserves nothing less. 

Tickets for the launch night can be bought here https://www.fatsoma.com/e/276yrrv7/the-dirt-pray-for-mojo-dim-imagery-bloodworm