Album Review: worriedaboutsatan – Arrivals
FIRST PUBLISHED AT THE LINE OF BEST FIT
Will electronica make a comeback at the end of the decade? It seems that having gone organic in the 00s with folktronica, many electronica artists have been second-guessed recently by folk artists (from Bon Iver to Iron & Wine) augmenting their music with pro-tooled trickery. With the likes of Grizzly Bear being signed to Warp it seemed that these artists had the critical and commercial edge: vocal-led music, however abstract, was having more traction with listeners and reviewers – underpinning their haunted mood pieces with harmonies and (albeit fragmented) song structures. Meanwhile the likes of Animal Collective, who had been long lumped with the freak folk set – despite apparently seeing themselves as sonic collagists as opposed to a ‘proper’ band – have had an impact on electronica. Caribou, once of Manitoba fame, found a wider audience with his ‘Andorra‘ album, which embraced the infectious, polychromatic psychedelics and West Coast harmonies of Panda Bear and Avery Tare.
Four Tet (aka Kieren Hebden) – one of the most influential figures in electronica over the last ten years – suggested a buck in the trend with his 2008 ‘Ringer’ EP, the title track of which harked back to the computer-generated symphonies of Orbital, presumably to shrug off the folktronica pigeonhole. However, Hebden has since reverted to earthier textures with jazz drummer Steve Reid on their fine ‘NYC‘ collaboration. Boards of Canada – the other, much-imitated custodians of the electronica scene – imported a lot of added cassette-distorted folksiness to their last album ‘Campfire Headphase’. What will they do next?
But just because the mainstream music press hasn’t picked up on notionally ‘purer’ electronic music doesn’t mean it is not being made or even that it’s not good, of course, and there are some signs of a renaissance. Having flirted with classical, jazz and more recently folk – it seems that electronica may start flirting with itself again, with old school electro textures prevalent. However, recent successes such as Field’s ‘From Here We Go Sublime’ and The Knife’s ‘Silent Shout‘ derived as much from variant forms of techno as electronica per se.
worriedaboutsatan - aka Gavin Miller and Thomas Ragsdale – are a refreshing reminder of the possibilities of more orthodox electronic music and while not a great leap forward, is a highly engaging and atmospheric listen. Though not characterised by the polyrhythmic mechanical textures of, say, Autechre – there are post-rock guitars lurking throughout ‘Arrivals’ – worriedaboutsatan’s sound-scapes are unabashedly computer-generated, with an emphasis on unearthly atmosphere. ‘Arrivals’ is mostly hushed and spectral, with cathedral-sized atmospherics and a Space Odyssey-esque mood of isolation and menace. There is a palpable sense of space, a vertiginous emptiness underpinned by minimal percussive constructs that build from pitter-pattering ticks into metronomic 4/4 rhythms. While the album reminds me of other artists such as Murcof and James Holden, ‘Arrivals’ is an accomplished work in its own right.
‘I’m A Crooked Man’ flickers into life with a loop of reverbed ringing and cavernous drones, before some crackly, mildly jazzy chords usher in some bass-driven propulsion. It evolves into a somnambulant nocturnal groove (best enjoyed over the headphones of course) and ends in a finale of deep, grinding guitar dissonance that would please fans of Jim O’Rourke as much as those of Richard D. James. ‘Pissing Abotu’ (I hope I have this right and it’s not a typo!) is a less than evocative title but is equally engaging. Beginning with a stuttering, high-pitch metallic noise, other textures – abrasive drones, and ghostlier, less definite shapes – gradually combine into a hypnotic pulse.
‘History is Made at Night’ begins with some Kid A-style, faux-naive keyboards before a hesitant little synth pattern and metronomic beats slowly evolve into a ghostly pulse. Even a little funereal in its downcast aesthetic, the fine drizzle of effects is undermined by a radiant yet menacing drone that slowly insists itself and subsumes the track. ‘You’re In My Thought’s begins with what sounds like shimmering, high-end guitar work, layering post-rock textures onto crunchier beats, twinkling but jagged IDM shards and chopped up vocal fragments in a way reminds me pleasingly of Boards of Canada’s ‘Telephasic Workshop’. This is contrasted nicely by ‘All Things But You Are Silent’, a cinematic maelstrom of deep drones, hissing interference and quaking, smouldering ominousness. The title track is initially becalming after the darkness and paranoia of the track that preceded it, all whispering voices, shimmering synths and lilting ambience. Finally the spell is broken by some enormous low-end guitars which herald a stunning climax to the album.
If I have one minor quibble with ‘Arrivals’ it’s that worriedaboutsatan revert too often to a default mood of extraterrestrial spookiness. Some of the disembodied voices – and I’m normally a sucker for this conceit – with their “eight, one, zero, five” transmissions from the satellite heart (to steal from The Flaming Lips), are a little old hat. Luckily they are mostly confined to intermissions – this is one of the best electronica albums I have heard in years.