Personnel: Luke Haines (vocals, guitar, sitar, kazoo, harmonium, drums).
The ex-Auteurs, Black Box Recorder, and Baader Meinhof mastermind's sixth album in seven years, Smash the System sees Haines ditching the conceptual architecture of past outings in favor of a more singles-oriented, though no less idiosyncratic, collection of new material. Haines, ever the pop culture double agent, spends much of the 12-track set living up to the moniker via sardonic take-downs of fellow industry outsiders like the Incredible String Band, Vince Taylor, and T. Rex, but his bile is tempered by his obvious affinity for his quarry. He's spent the last decade or so threading the needle between contempt and esteem, and Smash the System is the perfect vehicle for his particular brand of cockeyed nostalgia. Haines begins the proceedings by tipping his hat, so to speak, to the docent of his second act, the German left-wing militant group Baader Meinhof. "Ulrike Meinhof's Brain Is Missing," which chronicles the Red Army Faction leader's conspiracy-shrouded death in 1976, picks right up where 2015's electro-ambient oddity British Nuclear Bunkers left off. Propelled by clanging percussion and sinister synths, it's the closest thing, sonically, to 2001's Oliver Twist Manifesto that Haines has released to date -- that penchant for pairing brash, digital cacophony with acerbic lyrics and big hooks also extends to the excellent title track. The rest of the surprisingly accessible Smash the System follows suit, weaving in some solid singer/songwriter-y bits ("Bomber Jacket"), some Sleaford Mods-style post-punk ("Power of the Witch"), and even a dollop of neo-pagan Wicker Man-worship ("Cosmic Man"), all with a wink and a nod, of course. ~ James Christopher Monger