Since 2013, Glasgow’s Golden Teacher have released a string of singles and EPs courtesy of the city’s unofficial patriarchs of underground music, Optimo. The sextet fits squarely into the aesthetics of label head JD Twitch, which means basically anything that makes the body whip: disco, industrial, EBM, Afrobeat, post-punk, and dancehall, with a touch of Arthur Russell and Cabaret Voltaire for good measure. It made perfect sense when Twitch matched them with dub-punk legend Dennis Bovell for the unhinged 2015 12” Golden Teacher Meets Dennis Bovell at the Green Door. Bovell’s credits run from the Slits and the Raincoats to Linton Kwesi Johnson, and he was adept at twisting the band’s spiky punk-acid-disco inside out, with results that evoked the lysergic connotations of the band’s name.
But as the group’s debut album proves, they can warp, distend, and freak every single component of their sound all by themselves. The seven extended tracks here are as disorienting and as exhausting as a half-marathon through a funhouse of mirrors. Named for a popular strip of clubs and restaurants in their hometown, “Sauchiehall Withdrawal” touches so many bases that it might just approximate what it’s like to walk down the street on a Saturday night with a dozen clubs all blaring different types of music: cosmic disco, acid, punk, and dub, all grafted to a tireless Fela beat. But the political lingers just beneath the surface of this dance party, in lines like singer Cassie Ojay’s question, “I’m always working so hard, and for what?” She’s not always so pointed; in the title track, she manifests and dissolves back into the extraterrestrial dub, her voice rendered just another sound to stretch and manipulate, along with horns, chimes, and hand drums. Even when Ojay’s delivery doesn’t quite make sense, as on the queasily downtempo “The Kazimier,” she conveys a heavy atmosphere.
Ojay shares vocal duties with Charles Lavenac, and while her tracks are the most enchanting, Lavenac’s flat, half-spat, half-whispered delivery has its own appeal; he often sounds like !!!’s Nic Offer buzzed on Buckfast. On “Spiritron,” he mewls an interstellar love story in earthy tones, singing for spare change and praising his beloved’s ripped jeans, all against a shimmering curtain of blips, acid squelches, disembodied coos, and restless punk energy.
As distinctive as Golden Teacher’s dual vocalists can be, too often the group lets the grooves do all the talking for them. “Diop” offers the freshest wrinkle to the post-punk template, paying tribute to the bewildering mbalax of the Senegalese griot Aby Ngana Diop. These Scots may not have the chops to turn out the kinds of rapid-fire polyrhythms that Diop’s band can hammer out, but they manage a dizzying three minutes by tweaking their electronics. They contort almost every element of “What Fresh Hell Is This?,” but the effect feels a bit more familiar, not too far from the kind of dub alchemy that Holger Czukay achieved as a producer in the late ’70s with tracks like Can’s “A Spectacle” and “How Much Are They?” (from his trio with Jah Wobble and Jaki Liebezeit). Head-spinning as such songs can be, they also reveal the band’s limits. As much as Golden Teacher absorb the adventurous dub sounds of the past, their exuberance can’t quite make up for the fact that sometimes they still sound like students.