I am in awe of Ajay Saggar. In addition to his day (and night) job as production manager at the Paradiso, Amsterdam’s main venue, he has found time to bombard the listening public with an array of great albums during 2023. He started off greeting Spring with a double album from his solo project, Bhajan Bhoy, albeit joined by a hatful of guests, following that up by teaming up with Bo Ningen’s Kohhei Matsud to form Chela whose album marked the passing of summer. Although vastly diverse, these records were esoteric and experimental in sound, very considered projects that so obviously had required considerable thought, planning and structuring. Now he has joined forces with Holly Habstritt to create Volksempfänger who reflect a more formative bunch of influences. While the year’s earlier releases consisted of extended reveries, the ten tracks on ‘Attack of Sound’ are concise blasts, all weighing in at under four minutes, often by a considerable distance.

‘Attack of Sound’ kicks off with its title track, a slight misnaming in that it feels more like an embrace than an attack. Washes of spiralling guitar are gilded with overlaid vocal harmonies with Habstritt’s voice to the fore. As the song fades out, there is a trace of the feedback that will be a feature of the album. ‘How We Made It Seem’ starts with feedback squalls, before adding rudimentary standup drums and pop harmonies. It captures the early Jesus and Mary Chain feel of leaping around with hands over the ears whilst trying to balance a pot of honey on your head. Later on, ‘Damned and Drowned’ adopts a similar template, albeit with the balance slightly more skewed toward pop rather than noise.

‘What the Girl Does’ has a Cocteau Twins inspired guitar swirl over vocals that are more sound than words and leave what the girl does being a mystery. With its teasing hints of feedback being buried by threatening basslines, ‘Moan’ marks out post-punk territory and sprinkles spots of dub ambience. ‘You’re Gonna Lose Hard’ adds deep bass and synth washes to the sound palette, an invitation to throw shapes on the dancefloor. ‘Slipping By’ has an almost bucolic air undercut by the muted feedback on top, like a refreshing sunshine walk trying to shake off the musty feel of a minor hangover.

‘Remain The Dancer’ throws some keyboard squeaks and an MBV flavoured fade out into the equation. In contrast, ‘Off My Back’ begins with a guitar line that suggest casting off all inhibitions and is absolutely delightful. In between revisiting that line, the song heads off in a variety of unexpected directions to create a crazily wonky and askew few minutes. Closing track, ‘You’ve Lost It’, starts with cinematic orchestration before wallowing in beautifully unpeeling guitar and somnambulist harmonies.

‘Attack of Sound’ is the most instantly accessible of Saggar’s 2023 releases while still containing impressive layering. It is an album that reflects the influence of Phil Spector’s Wall of Sound, Beach Boys harmonies and MC5’s primal rock surge refracted through the gaze of 1980s bands who had originally married those influences. However, rather than creating a third-generation rehash, they have sprinkled it with fresh energy and perspectives. Volksempfänger are the sound of living your best life.

Volksempfänger: Attack of Sound – Out 24th November 2023 (Cardinal Fuzz)

– How We Made It Seem – YouTube

I was editor of the long-running fanzine, Plane Truth, and have subsequently written for a number of publications. While the zine was known for championing the most angular independent sounds, performing in recent years with a community samba percussion band helped to broaden my tastes so that in 2021 I am far more likely to be celebrating an eclectic mix of sounds and enthusing about Made Kuti, Anthony Joseph, Little Simz and the Soul Jazz Cuban compilations as well as Pom Poko and Richard Dawson.