Thursday, 14 March 2013

The Haxan Cloak - Excavation


Maybe I'm searching in the wrong places - or more likely, my natural string of bad luck lends itself even to discovering more music - but when it comes to dark ambient, my want and need for broadening one's library, often leads me into places that garner nothing short of an S-shaped face (by the way of describing it through emoticons). Such puzzlement arises because I question just what is it that is so dark. Is this a ethereal thing? An emotive one? Or simply just a cross-genre translation that has lent itself from other 'dark' fields of music. Apart from Tangerine Dream's Zeit - one of my favourite [in general] ambient albums - and Eno's Apollo: Atmospheres And Soundtracks, a lot of the ambient I can both distinguish and return to in future listens (if put on a spectrum) is more likely to be less this sinisterly melancholic grey this sub-genre so often lingers in from fans' perspectives. Londoner Bobby Krlic's The Haxan Cloak project, without question, lies in the dark ambient field. Thus, I can't help but approach 2013's Excavation with some conscious waver and doubt over whether the appeal of Cloak's sounds is indeed elemental and constructive (and not just dark for the sake of dark). My more lenient and perspective self however, is quick to notice Cloak now flies under the Tri-Angle Records flag instead. So is this jump in ship, an attempt by the label to bring some ethereal smoke to a catalog, at present, initially content with its underground garage and electronic music flame?

It's no surprise - rather fitting actually - that Consumed, is a brief two-minute introduction, and a way for the listener to get cosey with what is a rather un-cosey throb of underwater bass and voices moaning briefly in both front and back layers of the mix. But soon, and quite violently, the track shatters and crumbles beneath its theoretical feet, bass swiftly building, or more fittingly, crumbling from all around us - snapping drums attacking as if from an unknown position. But Krlic's analytical, almost eye-falteringly concise focus on the physicality and brunt force of sound as physics, feels overwhelming and completely surrounding of its listener, as if the very ground around you is beginning to crumble, but not quite fall apart. So already, through the volatile clatter of percussion and the abrasive instability of around us, Cloak already makes his listener feel on edge, but in a way that - like album such as Earth 2, or even F#A#∞ did brilliantly in - conjures a sort of self-contained identity for itself. Excavation (Part 1), which I suppose because of its title you might consider the [joint] centre-piece of the record, lends itself to Tri-Angle's artists working around basement-lingered bass leads and 2-step drumbeats. But what Cloak adds, and indeed betters in this foundry of electronics, is the acuteness and drone of atmosphere that surrounds the piece. There are swift passages of percussion, but they come off instead drenched - rather than painted - in a thick textural splatter that at one point comes off as fluid in its motion, but in others has the swirl and weightless ballet of burnt, blackened smoke. The way Cloak's shroud of atmosphere lingers about the music gives the track this shape-shifting characteristic, and despite the main lead of synthesizers and drumbeats, the track is more enticing because of its throbbing, warming and (as it nears the end) menacing loom shrouding the entirety of the mix.

(Part 2) I guess is more the sentiment and awakening moment for whatever's looming. And the immediate turn in character with which it springs to life, does leave its listener perhaps short of breath. The way the beats are presented more in an earthly, weighted pattern as opposed to the former rhythmic manner, conjures all these heavy dub sounds that are equally percussive as they are approached as bass elements. Synthesizers, in a mechanical sense, too feel as if they've been caught by this switch of conveyance; the textures and patterns of electronics have a lot more of this robust and offensive edge that's exemplified by the overall track. This lends itself well to the overall feeling I'm getting from the track, of what might be a clash, but could well be some continuing awakening from whatever state this music - this aesthetic - has lingered in previous. Mara perhaps suggests that the context of this overall narrative has its human linger about it, even if what humanity there is, is devoid of joyous calm or peace. The opening string-like splicing of what sounds like voices, which are then immediately silenced and brought back in looped patterns, does lend itself well to the track's nightmarish vibes. The higher reaches of sound that appear soon-after create an intriguing dynamic between itself and the track's main component of stricken drumbeats, and while it's the latter that has the immediate effect on the sound's vibrancy, it's the former human-like tone that creates more an atmospheric vibe and direct effect on our human senses.

Vocal inclusion, or be it sounds that materialize - or project a kind of imitation - as those of the human voice, are definitely one of the more intriguing aspects to this range of electronic music. But while I think Cloak doesn't treat, or even engage, with these elements as well as say Burial does, I still think he treats them like entities that are quite rightly non-materialistic and aren't necessarily human in relation to what surrounds it. Miste to emphasize this, opens with an upheaval jolt of voices booming - perhaps recoiling - from the intensity of Cloak's fractured environments. The tones have a lot less emotive or even analogical detail to them, but the way in which they express, and later loop onto themselves, give the surrounding shades of bass and boulder-like clatters of drums, that extra sinisterly-attractive charm. While the vocal waning does disappear - and admittedly I would have preferred Cloak developing these sounds more - the track then turns into this static, almost jostling state. There's a lot less motion and audible movement in the track's progression, yet it's the way the billowing projection of bass and the clatter of drums react to one another, that gives the music's lack of movement a sense of reason.

The Mirror Reflecting (Part 1) is, excluding the opening track, the shortest composition on here, but even with this alluding to its length, I feel this is probably one of the more suggestive and wider-scoped of the tracks offered here. I like the way the track briefly offers a sort of glimmer of light in the initial few seconds. And while it feels as if it's slowly gaining pace and position on the track, the way the accompanying slow approach of thunderous bass acts as if to snuff it out and silence it, makes for a more emotive projection on the listener's attempts to visualize what they're hearing. But even with all this mustered force of bass and synthesis in sound, the way the brighter drones of sound resurface and take control of the piece makes for a resounding sense of achievement perhaps in the narrative or the subject matter of the track. Not that Cloak goes out of his way to intentionally present a sort of physical context to the music, but the way there's space to suggest and speculate I feel works just as well given how strong the tones are from both ends of the track's audible spectrum. (Part 2) while not as broad in its clash of light and dark tones, does offer like before, a chance for us to see past the initial tussle, and beyond to what happens when these counteracting forces come to lock horns. The lighter sweeps of synthesizers though begin as these noisy, crystallizing  - as the track progresses - begin to gain more a lofty, weightless air to itself. And all the while, the opposition; the slower, muddier clambering of heavy drum beats and vacuous bass comes off rather weakened; struggling even. There's then this slowly-building gurgling of synths that appear as if rejuvenating the track -  bass gaining intensity as a sweep of triangulating strings appearing to sail across the music, neither attracting nor repelling what it is that's occurring in the [meta]physical geography of the music.

Dieu is, by far, the most rhythmic - if volcanic - of Excavation's tracks, and it's thanks in large parts to the music's gritty, almost crispy texture of synths that give the music a more carefully-positioned stature about itself. There's still a looming linger of bass and gravitating descent of drums continuing to allude that even the floor around us could give way at any minute. But it's the microscopic detail and dust-like scatter of the track's synth lead that is the biggest appeal here. As if looking into a stream of light, there's something quite natural yet curiously surreal about the way the synthetics of Cloak's rhythms meet with his naturally dark and eery atmosphere that, even here, continues to preside but doesn't necessarily hold as much rule as it has done on previous tracks. Even the inclusion of what sound like mournful violin and cello strings reminds me of what the likes of Saltillo has done so well in creating regarding atmosphere, and though said instruments aren't focused on as much - or even used to as much an effective stance - it does give Cloak's sound this welcome engaging factor. The Drop, the twelve-minute closer on this album, may surprise quite a few given how it opens too with a slightly more brighter allure of sounds than what we've come to expect. The rounded shape of the synths at the beginning do cast the track in more perhaps a city-like or, at the very least, open environment than previous, but I don't feel it overwhelms what is still a menacing conjure of wavy electronics. By about a quarter of the way though, as synths start to sound as if they're decaying or perhaps devolving (as the title may or may not be alluding to) the rounder, pompous sounds do start to fade off into the unknown. Bass begins to kick in and continuing through the half-way point, the track loses what clarity it had sustained previous and the smokey, drenching textures return. And even as the music encompasses some more rhythmic use of percussion and looming swatches of violins, there's no stirring away from the blanket of darkly tones that Cloak smothers the music in - the album ending, like it began, in a blur of ambiguous weight and appearance.

Coming to this album, I questioned whether or not Cloak would stick out like a sore-thumb on a label that clearly respected the suburban looms of garage electronics and rhythms that were, suitably, adept to rhythm and, while not exactly screaming colour, still provided some manner of human context and understanding. In regards to this particular field of atmospheric music, Excavations is clearly an album that relies on intensity and just-as-intense reactions between its fundamental components, albeit pieces that lie both in and out of an aura that's as much about space as it is of expression. It's not exactly human or even sentient, but The Haxan Cloak achieves exerting these sounds both in presence and existence, not only because he marries these earthly and eery sounds together, but too his focus on extreme environments and hostile atmospheres, gives his listener reason to believe the music they're hearing is menacing and effective enough, it could reach out and grab them. Excavations is one of those moments in ambient listening, that is as much about the physical exertion as much as it is a demonstration on the materialistic and animistic patterns of the World. Like genetics, it's a matter of relation and integration as it is a study of what it is that lies beyond the visible. Cloak's own structures allude to the idea that beyond the foreseen, there's the unseen; structures comprised of sub-structures. And while the album does come off grossly frontal and unwavering in its scale and ambition - at times choosing to continue the same approach rather than deter from what is the same stance or choice of texture - the way Cloak hints and suggests there's more to it than what we can already detect (the minor elements of vocals, percussion and strings providing that pointer) alludes to this said idea. No matter how grand or colossal, it's still a form made up of countless more individual pieces that may or may not want to be accounted for. It's that 'is it/isn't it' speculation in its presence, that appeals to those hungry for electronics that breathe as much as they live. And fortunately for the most part, these sub-structures hold as much a rudimentary reason for existing (vague or not) as they too allude to a presence beyond that which we - as humans - can recognize.
~Jordan

7.8

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