Lucid Sound Driver: Serenading the Indigo Child

Lucid Sound Driver
Serenading the Indigo Child

No Problema
Street: 09.30
Lucid Dound Driver = William Basinski + 2 8 1 4

Serenading the Indigo Child, the second full-length from local musician Lucid Sound Driver, presents itself as a story. The track titles give a loose sense of the narrative, with “Lying Down to Rest,” “Transcending Temporal Planes” and “Approaching a Doorway” acting as stops along the dream journey that concludes with “Becoming Indigo.” Over the course of the album’s 80 minutes, the music forgoes any sort of typical structure in favor of lengthy, seemingly formless ambient tracks that, when taken as a whole, create a gorgeous and immersive listening experience.

Instead of having typical builds or climaxes worked into them, the 11 tracks here employ subtle shifts in tone and distortions of melodies to get their ideas across. Take, for example, “Walking Down Spiritual Corridors.” The airy keyboard melody that begins the song slowly disappears as low-end tones envelop the mix until everything eventually gives way to a pulsing bass line and huge washes of clustered synthesizers. The track ends with three minutes of nearly indecipherable white noise, but rather than feeling overly abstract or intangible, it serves as a chilling finish to the amorphous music that
precedes it.

Other highlights include “Going Under (Awakening),” a track in which the light and pleasant opening gives way to ominous globs of textural, dissonant keyboard patterns that help give some emotional diversity to a record whose overarching mood is tranquility. “Approaching a Doorway” is the most defined composition here, full of jagged glockenspiel tones that, along with the constantly shifting keyboard progressions in the background of the track, often create surprising and jarring
harmonic textures.

“Becoming Indigo” forgoes melody completely in favor of six minutes of heavy, lush blocks of sound. It’s not a particularly final sounding closer, but on an album dedicated to the sound in between sounds, it feels like a fitting ending. Serenading the Indigo Child is not an album for casual listening. Rather, it’s best enjoyed in one sitting, letting the minute changes and overwhelming attention to detail create a sound environment to live in, rather than evoke simple pleasures.
Connor Lockie

Bjoörk | Utopia | One Little Indian

Björk
Utopia

One Little Indian
Street: 11.24
Björk = Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith + Tomutonttu

Björk’s last album, Vulnicura, was a confessional exploration of heartbreak and the dissolving of a family. It ended with the refrain of “When I’m broken I am whole, and when I’m whole, I am broken.” Utopia explores this contradiction, searching for unity in a fragmented self and world. As such, the album has plentifully bleak sections, but the overall tone is uplifting and reverent.

Compared to some of Björk’s more stylistically diverse records, Utopia is generally restricts itself to a gentle atmosphere. While this might make the album appear light and agreeable, this is easily one of her most ambitious and abstract works to date. The song structures are unpredictable, the sounds are disarmingly alien and the numerous lyrical themes are complex and confrontational. Mostly, the tracks toy with a few short instrumental and vocal ideas and unfold them over the track length. While these melodies are gorgeous, they’re rarely succinct or conventional. They wind through the music freely, often amassing on top of each other to build walls of contrasting focal points.

Apart from a few small semblances of Björk’s past pop-writing (the insanely catchy “Sue Me,” the gorgeous flute melody on “Saint”), the best moments come from the more loosely structured compositions. The title track pins field recordings and delicate flute playing against shuffling percussion and pitch-shifted vocal samples, creating a mix that, on paper, shouldn’t work. However, this combination of the naturally primitive and the futuristic feels perfect for Björk, who’s more than ever equally interested in the beauty of the Earth and of technology. “Claimstaker” begins with a goofy, galloping synthesizer line that morphs into swelling strings, while Bjork’s vocal tracks amass on one another as she walks into nature and realizes, “This forest is in me.” It’s an epic amalgamation that, though subtle and lacking any definitive climax, matches the overwhelming awe that Björk expresses.

Of course, the fantastic production is created alongside Arca, who’s familiar warbled pianos and haunting vocal samples are built into the core of each track. As with every new phase of Björk’s career, the continuation of their collaboration feels more like a new home than a hopeful experiment. Arca’s tension between ecstatic romance and violent horror is the perfect companion to Björk, whose assured, expressive vocals fit perfectly into each track.

Within the general theme of redemption and rebirth, Björk looks into a wealth of social and personal concepts, helped in part by the longer album length. The pitfalls of society contrast with the wishes and knowledge of human instinct through ideas, such as completely restarting society to abolish the patriarchy (“Tabula Rasa”) and using the ancestral codes built into your DNA to address discomfort and change (“Body Memory”). She puts just as much effort and focus into tracks about the pleasures and problems of dating (“Courtship”) and the joy of talking to other self-proclaimed “music nerds” (“Blissing Me”), understanding that individual experiences can’t be removed from one’s place in the whole—the two are densely interwoven.

Utopia ends with what could be Björk’s mission statement: “Imagine a future and be in it.” While this is easier said than done, it sounds infinitely more believable coming from the mouth of an artist who has consistently dictated the shape of the musical future. Utopia (shop.bjork.com) finds Bjork exploring a delicate balance between gorgeous art songs and restlessly experimental sound explorations. She crafted a whole that defies categorization and outdoes any number of one-dimensional electronic albums, reaffirming the endless bounds of her creativity and musicianship.  Connor Lockie

Dustin Wong | Fluid World Building 101 With Shaman Bambu | Hausu Mountain

Dustin Wong
Fluid World Building 101 With Shaman Bambu

Hausu Mountain
Street: 09.14
Dustin Wong = Joe Zawinul’s Dialects + Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith

The latest from Chicago-based experimentalists Hausu Mountain finds avant-rock musician Dustin Wong shifting his sound to fold into the label’s typical stylings. Unlike his work in the blistering prog outfit Ponytail or the chilled-out funk of his collaborations with Takako Minekawa, the music here takes on a colorful, sugar-coated sheen. Fluid World Building 101 With Shaman Bambu is nothing if not flashy. It often praises chaos over order and more over less, pushing nearly all of Wong’s ideas to their manic breaking point.

On most of the tracks, Wong forgoes easily discernable structure in favor of a stream-of-consciousness rush through layers of improvisations and disorienting loops. From the first track, “Nite Drive With Shaman Bambu,” Wong makes clear his love for vertical stacks of sounds instead of horizontal spatializing. Based around an ever-evolving, quasi-tropical groove, Wong piles on pitch-shifted guitars, electronic percussion, warped vocals and other sounds for a shapeshifting seven minutes. Often, this mass of instrumentation combines all at once, and the task becomes trying to pull any one focal point out of the crowded picture.

Because of how overwhelming the clutter can be, the most successful tracks are more spaced out and feature more economically arranged instruments. “Village Made of Zephyr,” in particular, has a welcome airiness. All of the elements that showed up in “Nite Drive” are here as well, but used more sparingly and with more apparent attention to interplay. There are languid melodies here, as well as dramatic chord changes—something that can get lost in the muck elsewhere.

When the air clears, the twisted fusion roots of much of the music on Fluid World Building shows themselves. If you’ve ever listened to Wong’s work with Ponytail, you’d know that he’s a highly skilled musician with a knack for merging memorable melodies with mind-bending guitar workouts. Here, that technicality is present, but it’s often combatted by a goofy electronic line or a kitschy video game aesthetic. “Dawn Thru the Marble Parthenon” pits clanking percussion samples and shimmery synths against rich guitar harmonies, making for a moment that sounds like the offspring of Bill Frisell and Super Mario Sunshine.

All this madness makes the album’s centerpiece and immediate standout, “はずかしがらないで (Don’t Be Ashamed),” feel like even more of a shock. The winding guitar solos and disorienting rhythms fall away, and a bonified pop tune emerges. The combination of plucked string counterpoint, Wong’s intimate delivery and a cosmic synthesizer solo to round the whole thing out make “はずかしがらないで (Don’t Be Ashamed)” a moment of truly ecstatic music.

Wong lives up to his promise of constructing his own reality in that it seems to have little reference to or patience for the outside world. The best way to digest the music, then, is to meet it on its own terms. Following the advice of the final track, titled “New Societies Interacting, Let’s Zoom In,” the music works best when it’s studied like a set of data. If you hyperfocus on “World Builder Imagines a City,” what seemed like the musical equivalent of rainbow vomit turns into a densely interlocking puzzle of seemingly at-odds ideas and gestures. Lean back, and everything muddles. Though it sounds cheery on the surface, the reality of Fluid World Building is some deeply complex and difficult music. –Connor Lockie

Evil Genius: Bitter Human

Evil Genius
Bitter Human

Orenda
Street: 10.06
Evil Genius = Zs + Sun City Girls + Dancing in Your Head-era Ornette Coleman

Evil Genius don’t waste time. Their debut record, Bitter Human, begins seemingly in medias res, with the band pummeling along a chain of dizzying polyrhythms and atonal chunks of guitar playing. This quickly gives way to a riff that sounds like surf-rock from hell led by the shrieks and groans of a tuba melody, and all of this happens within the first thirty seconds of the track. This opener, titled “Blind Elephant’s Green Felt Jungle Dance,” lasts a brief two minutes, but Evil Genius use each second to their advantage. The group already stands apart from others based on their unorthodox makeup of guitar (Max Kutner), tuba (Stefan Kac) and drums (Mike Lockwood), but the trio further separate themselves through their unique blend of free improvisation, progressive rock and noise music.

The second track, “Juke Prompt,” showcases the band’s multifaceted nature well. The melody that bookends the recording is surprisingly infectious and would even be danceable if weren’t for the unpredictable time changes that occur every few seconds. No matter how pleasant this section might be, the trio quickly do away with structure entirely and enter a freely improvised section led by Kutner’s skittering guitar lines and drumming that recalls Elvin Jones’ work on John Coltrane’s Ascension. The two sides of this track highlight the talents of the band that make them such a joy to listen to they are equally comfortable with riding tense, intricate rock grooves as they are creating spacious, guttural and freely improvised compositions.

Many other tracks showcase these abilities, most notably “Secondary Air” and “Share in a Regional Meat Vision.” The former resembles the opening track, a short, more thoroughly composed endeavor that jumps around musical ideas with incredible speed and precision. The constantly shifting structure can be a bit disorienting, but on “Secondary Air” the band play together so well that each piece slides together to build on the frantic energy that comes from the jumbled rhythms and grating harmonies. “Regional Meat Vision” is based more around improvisation, and even delves into some semi-conventional swing solos for brief moments. Given how the rest of the record obsessively rejects norms, this comes across as humorous, as if the group only quotes traditional jazz so they can tear it apart and return to their preferred style of dissonant clanks and skronks.

As to not overwhelm with fifty plus minutes of overly tense and blaring music, the band offers a few slower cuts to bring down the heat for a moment. The best of these, “Maneuver,” comes towards the end of the record. The band slows things down here in order to let the tiny harmonic clashes come out with Kutner’s guitar lines creating delicate harmonies against Kac’s low pedal tones. Eventually, the band lets this all fall apart as the track moves towards its bone-crushing climax of gigantic, grotesque blocks of sound. This much control over texture and harmonic color is rare for any group, let alone one based on group improvisation.

Every now and then, Evil Genius’s ambition gets ahead of them. Tracks like “Vamp for Lennay Kekua” and the title track get lost in the ether a bit and lack the memorability and punch that other cuts do. Nevertheless, Bitter Human is one hell of a debut record. Kutner, Kac and Lockwood prove themselves a force to be reckoned with and have already staked claims as one of the most noteworthy new groups in weird-rock and non-jazz improvisation. (Diabolical Records 12.07) –Connor Lockie

Pharmakon | Contact | Sacred Bones

Pharmakon
Contact

Sacred Bones
Street: 03.31
Pharmakon = Whitehouse + Masonna + Wormrot

New York musician Margaret Chardiet has made a name for herself in recent years as one of the most alarming and terrifying artists in the public eye, putting out short noise records full of shrill screaming and ear-splitting static. After the one-two punch of 2013’s Abandon and 2014’s Bestial Burden, Chardiet took a few years to craft this follow-up, Contact. Fitting into the normal Pharmakon sound, Contact is just as putrid and noisy as expected, but Chardiet doesn’t avoid conventions of music altogether—rather, she shows the ability to make tracks that aren’t simply brutal for brutality’s sake.

Most of the tracks here feature vocals, and anyone who’s listened to a Pharmakon record before won’t be surprised by what they hear. While the constant screaming doesn’t  impart a lot of stylistic versatility to Pharmakon’s tracks, the formula works out for her yet again. Pharmakon’s sound is unique to the point that putting on one of her records means looking for a specific feeling: bare physicality and sheer rage. While there is an essence of uniformity in the album’s emotion, a focus on rhythm and texture adds variance. The screaming on opener “Nakedness of Need” is grotesque even for a Pharmakon track, reaching new levels of pure abrasion. Further, the hammering percussion riff on “Transmission” sounds like a home-recorded hardcore record that’s been scratched with a steak knife and dipped in battery acid. Much has been said about the punk ethos of noise, and Pharmakon makes a case for this argument. This isn’t chin-scratching experimental music for intellectuals—this is red-hot anger and throwing-bottles-off-your-apartment-roof music.

This sort of flirting with more conventional music styles shows up again on standout track “Sleepwalking Form.” After an extended intro of eerie, descending keyboard lines and dissonant buzzing, an industrial drumbeat comes in and lends the track an identifiable rhythmic body. The way Chardiet’s syncopated singing sits atop the big-two beat resembles a slowed-down, fucked-up version of hip-hop. This gives the track a sort of head-nodding groove, a nice section of tangibility on an otherwise airy and drone-laden album.

“Somatic,” one of the two tracks here that omits Chardiet’s voice, is the only cut to delve fully into truly extreme music. Opening with a sluggish, static riff, the cacophony of the track grows and throbs, building to an almost unbearable tension. Suddenly, a little before halfway into the track, the music explodes into a burst of fuzz and seemingly random layers of distortion. This is the sort of moment that denouncers of noise music liken to broken appliances, but along with the more digestible tracks elsewhere, it’s easy to appreciate “Somatic” as the most potent realization of the Pharmakon style. Against the reliance elsewhere on screams and growls to provide harshness, this track shows off Chardiet’s craft at using fully instrumental pieces alongside her normal form in order to deliver her message.

The biggest problem with Contact is what also weakened the last two Pharmakon records: length. While the relatively brief 32 minutes might be seen as an attempt not to overwhelm audiences, it nonetheless leaves something to be desired. Especially when taking the six or seven-minute song lengths into account, there isn’t quite enough material on this record to fulfill the need for a lengthy and complete listening experience. While the concept of a 50-plus minute Pharmakon record might sound daunting and painful, the diversity presented on Contact provides a hope that Chardiet could put forth an exciting and thorough full-length in the future. –Connor Lockie

Critical Beatdown Vol. 1 | Fountain AVM

Various Artists
Critical Beatdown Vol. 1

Fountain AVM
Street: 01.04
Critical Beatdown = Octo Octa + Demdike Stare + Flume

For the inaugural release on his new Fountain avm label, Adam Terry (aka Finale Grand) culls 13 new tracks from artists who performed during the first year of his Critical Beatdown series at Good Grammar in downtown Salt Lake City. Each previously unreleased track has its own distinct character, showcasing the diversity and quality of Salt Lake City’s dance music scene. 

However, since there’s nothing tying these tracks together beyond the artists’ areas of residence (and the internet has all but done away with the connection between geographic and stylistic restrictions), Critical Beatdown is a bit of a sonic clusterfuck. The tracks are as far reaching as Finale Grand’s lo-fi, warped takes on jazz and Mrgizmo’s future-focused dub production, spanning from SIAK PHD’s revivalist techno to Fischloops’ absurd, sample-based compositions.

While every track conflicts with others in unique ways, there’s an overarching tension between the past and the future. Half the tracks look solely ahead, toward what dance music could and should be. The other half seems intent on nostalgically looking back on the “golden-age” of early house and techno, doing their best to offer exact replications. Critical Beatdown asks what the purpose of dance music production is, placing conflicting answers to this question right next to each other on the track list and ultimately voting for both as viable directions. 

While the inclusion of nearly every type of dance music prevents Critical Beatdown from achieving true unity, it also prevents it from ever being boring. The unpredictable album sequencing brings about a litany of surprise switches, with each new track offering a new take on beat production. What also helps with the overall enjoyment of the album is that there’s not a dud the whole album. When the mood is more smooth (as it is with Mooninite and Soul Pause), it’s the perfect mood music. However, when this album hits hard, it reaches tangible levels of heaviness. C.DARA’s “Scraperoom” is probably one of the strangest tracks on the whole compilation, but there’s no denying the infectious nature of the stuttering keyboard riffs and the gigantic sub-bass.

Far from cohesive and from an exhaustive survey of local electronic music, Critical Beatdown nonetheless serves as a solid showcase of the always growing community of DJs and producers. Check out Critical Beatdown on the first Thursday of every month at Good Grammar. –Connor Lockie

Picnics at Soap Rock | Garden Tempo

Picnics At Soap Rock
Garden Tempo

Self-Released
Street: 06.20
Picnics at Soap Rock = Squirrel Bait + Slint

Garden Tempo is the debut EP from local band Picnics At Soap Rock. The duo, consisting of musicians who simply go by Ethan (drums) and Chazz (guitar/vocals), make music that calls back to the high point of lo-fi emo with enough rage and turmoil in their lyrics to justify the appropriation of this style. Far from wallowing in adolescent angst and pity, the high points of Garden Tempo offer abstract portraits of the complicated nature of mental health with some raucous, borderline psychedelic rock music behind them.

At this point, anyone with access to a smartphone and enough patience can make what was considered a hi-fi record 50 years ago. The fuzzy, lo-fi quality of Garden Tempo is then a specific choice, one that gives the EP an anachronistic feeling. On “The Inside Of Your Wristwatch,” the blaring guitars melt into a wall of distortion, and the brittle cymbal lines are a perfect match for the strained, fading vocals. The screamed lyrics detail feelings of solitary anger and social disillusion before the narrator hits a talking deer—who might be the voice of Satan.

The opener, “Waste,” displays a knack for marrying a lyrical message with musical backing, one of Picnics’ strongest traits, the final vocal delivers a call for increased faith in life. After dealing in depression, suicide and familiar strife, the assertion that “every weekend from now on is a celebration of what you didn’t waste” offers an empowering conclusion as the music launches into a grandiose instrumental coda. This does lead the title track, the sole instrumental cut, to feel a little lackluster. The slinking guitar lines don’t feel nearly as potent as the riffs elsewhere, and the lack of lyrics leave the track feeling unfinished.

While Garden Tempo doesn’t necessarily end on a positive note, it does show signs of progress. Its lyrics deal with making changes, cutting away toxic parts of your life and admitting your errors. What sells the feeling even more than these words, though, is the triumphant music. Towards the end of the track, atop anthemic guitar riffs, the duo begin an off-key, off-rhythm harmony. The effect is that of Ethan and Chazz drunkenly swaying, arms around each other, finding a necessary moment of kinship and empathy after a slew of emotional distress. –Connor Lockie

Arca | Self-titled | XL

Arca
Self-titled

XL
Street: 04.07
Arca = Dedekind Cut + Björk

“But whenever raw flesh appears on him, he shall be unclean” (Leviticus 13:14)

When Alejandro Ghersi (aka Arca) released his mixtape Entrañas last July, it felt like the dead-end of a musical and philosophical tunnel. The warped electronic music this producer had been making over the past few years had coalesced into a mix of unrelenting dissonance and noise. Entrañas (Spanish for “bowels”) was a shedding of all meaning and form. Despite the near constant aggression, what stood out was the closing section of the mix, a track entitled “Sin Rumbo.” The static and noise fell away, leaving only airy keyboards and Arca’s smooth singing. However misplaced this single might have sounded on Entrañas, its new place in the middle of Arca is more fitting. The self-titled record features Ghersi’s Spanish singing on nine of the 13 tracks, and showcases a reserved form of expression that the producer has sidestepped thus far. After the purgation of waste that was Entrañas, Arca is what’s left: a solemn, beautiful declaration of identity in all of its glorious imperfection.

“Coraje” is a perfect example of the new style Arca embraces. The track begins with low piano chords and Ghersi crooning over the top, a section whose overwhelming emotion only builds as the track progresses. Ghersi eventually pushes his voice into a higher register, reaching the brink of his body’s capabilities, all atop nothing save a single keyboard. The result is a cracking, imperfect vocal performance, one so full of emotion it’s almost unbearable to withstand for its naked presentation.

It’s only fitting then that Arca follows this minimal ballad with “Whip,” the most openly violent track on the entire album. The core here is a cluttered beat made out of whipping sounds littered with descending lines of quivering noise. Arca may have opted for an overall softer approach, but he still retains his brutal edge. “Desafio” is another surprising cut, but for an opposite reason. The track is melodic and memorable, and features an almost danceable groove with intricately layered vocal harmonies. It’s easy to hear the influence of FKA twigs here, an artist whose early work is mostly Ghersi-produced. After a stretch of time sitting behind the scenes of pop production, Arca now places himself front and center, combining his many influences into a unique identity.

The diversity and power of these three tracks carries through the rest of Arca. Many other vocal tracks follow “Sin Rumbo”: experimental and spacious ballads that use Ghersi’s voice as the centerpiece. Musically, the trademark feel of Arca’s sound as so unstable that it could fall to pieces at any moment is still there. What holds it all together here is Ghersi’s steady vocal delivery. Even though it’s difficult for me to decipher what Ghersi is saying without a knowledge of Spanish, his performances are expressive enough to convey strong emotions. Instrumental tracks like “Castration” and “Urchin” are more conventional Arca tracks, full of warbling piano lines and cluttered percussion, distorting their melodies toward unrecognizability. 

Arca ends with the instrumental “Child.” The track is a slow and drawn-out keyboard experiment, somewhat resembling a grand organ processional for a church service. While Arca’s music is not explicitly religious, there’s still a contemplative sacredness to how Ghersi presents his art. While he has always dealt with humanity, especially now with the inclusion of the voice, the music looks elsewhere for meaning. It looks past humanity, toward the stripped and bare flesh as a means of understanding.

“For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption” (Galatians 6:8)  Connor Lockie

Mooninite | EP3 | Self-Released

Mooninite
EP3

Self-Released
Street: 07.10
Mooninite = Xordox + Mouse on Mars

Mooninite is (the pseudonym of Andrew Aguilera), and this is his third release. While his past work has dealt with calm, yet driving electronic music, EP3 is a darker project. Aguilera’s already noteworthy skill at sound design and production has tightened, giving him more control of timbre and mood. He uses this to access the meaning of subtle sound changes rather than large, attention-grabbing signposts.

“Lollzen” opens the EP with a personal voicemail addressed to Aguilera, with the speaker expressing their concern but also acknowledging their respect for his personal space. It’s an intimate moment that’s justly followed by one of the more emotive pieces Aguilera’s has released so far. Based around a single-note synthesizer riff, the track moves to large peaks and dies away quietly. Instead of using volume or instrumentation to build the track, Aguilera uses sound to signal growth. He opens up his synthesizers from muted and short, to resonant and thumping, becoming more encompassing and menacing as the track progresses.

Even though the other four tracks return to familiar territory, they retain the emotional and reserved quality of “Lollzen.” The static underneath the mix of “Watch” creates a gritty background for the driving drum beats and delicate arpeggios, while sounds enter and exit sporadically. The simple repetition in each track allows the layers to show themselves one by one. Each second, a sound will seemingly appear out of nowhere, even though it’s been tightly laced in all along.

“Support (feat. Kyle Luntz)” is a bouncier cut, featuring vibraphones and drums that recall the back half of Tortoise’s TNT. This comparison signals a larger move in Aguilera’s music: Downtempo is no longer an adequate descriptor—now, pure ambience and delicate experimentation reign.

In the end, the technicalities and mixing of EP3 are its selling points. Aguilera’s attention to detail is impeccable, to the point that each note sounds exactly how it should. The tight, tinny drums on “Watch” gives the track a delicate feeling, while the ringing percussion on “End Loop” allows this closing track to feel expansive and grand. While a first listen of EP3 might seem less varied and creative than his self-titled EP or Soda, the opposite is true. By stripping things down to the barest ideas and structures, Aguilera proves his talents and moves his subtle dance music toward deep listening. –Connor Lockie

Scott Gordon | Relief Tours | Esk

Scott Gordon
Relief Tours

Esk
Street: 05.07
Scott Gordon = Anenon + Pan Daijing + Harry Partch

While under the name Oto Hiax, Scott Gordon’s music with Mark Clifford exudes a weightless and cosmic feeling. Their self-titled debut from last year saw the duo using nostalgic harmonies and heart-wrenching melodic fragments to transport the listener into an otherworldly, romantic state. However, every now and then, particularly on tracks like “Hok,” there was a sudden presence of a vibrant disturbance. Crushing noise and paranoid percussion replaced the otherwise silky timbres. Relief Tours shows that these moments might’ve been a consequence of Gordon’s input, as here he discards any sense of transcendence in favor of heavy, haunting music that teems with unsettling life.

This sense of being gives the music a palpable physicality. Instead of Gordon molding his sound into a system, it autonomously mutates: It creaks, moans, pulses and vibrates into grotesque forms. By electronically treating acoustic instruments, Gordon preserves the unpredictable nature of non-digital sound while still using enough personal alteration to bend the sources beyond easy recognition.

As much as I admittedly enjoy music that sounds like it was born and raised in someone’s hard drive, it’s refreshing to hear experimental electronic music that so potently bears the mark of uncontrollable corporeality. Relief Tours isn’t solely the product of late-night laptop sessions. On “Arid Scutter,” you can nearly visualize Gordon hunched over inside the lid of a piano, scraping the strings to produce the frequent sounds of grating scrapes across the strings. The clanking metallic percussion on “Into Tropic” retains just enough of a pulse to add a grounding element to the music, but the constantly shifting rhythms, dynamics and timbres—along with the unidentifiable washes of sound throughout the track—make the music feel more like a subterranean ceremony where passion and exhilaration take over any need to conform.

Rather than instantly submerge listeners into this infested, nightmarish world, Gordon delicately eases them down. The subdued opener “Benthic Salvage” is one of the few moments of serenity on the album, beginning with the spacious, unfiltered vibrations of a string. Each attack completely rings out while layers of distortion slowly build around this hollow shell. While most of the album leans towards pure eeriness, this is one of a few instances where Gordon delivers a bit of light into the bleak compositions. “Wetland Forms” features a string of distorted guitar harmonies that could almost be termed pretty, helping level out the terror brought on by the subhuman grumbles and moans that litter the rest of the piece.

As the album nears its close, Gordon steps back and allows the untamable velocity of his sounds to fully take over. “Throals” is a raging noise composition, beginning with a tense and reserved atmosphere before crescendoing towards a climax that completely fills any space it plays into. Each sound spills over into the next, and the total collage feels autonomous of Gordon’s hand as it wails and shrieks into eventual nothingness. Closer “Island Dissolve” serves the opposite purpose from “Benthic Salvage.” The synthesizer harmonies are more pleasing than ever, and the whole track moves with a sense of relaxed exhaustion. After the turbulent stretch of music that preceded it, “Island Dissolve” is the sound of all the creatures, spirits and wildlife that run rampant throughout Relief Tours finally settling into a moment of rest. Their raucous showing is so encompassing that it always takes a few seconds to glide back into reality once the music fades to silence. –Connor Lockie