Experimental: Gilded and Decibel Album Reviews
Gilded – Terrane (Hidden Shoal)
I’m no geologist, but thanks to a bit of search-engine scholarship I can now tell you that a “terrane” is a land-mass phenomenon where a tectonic plate breaks off and fuses with another, leaving a fault-line where the two bits of Earth-crust have “sutured.” The metaphorical inference to be made here – that collaborators Adam Trainer and Matt Rosner’s respective approaches/oeuvres are comparable to tectonic plates, monolithic, timeless, and joined at last – might seem a touch self-important if not for a few facts. (A) Adam and Matt are well-known to be top dudes, tirelessly honing their crafts for years with no time for chest-puffing; (B) their approaches/oevres actually DO feel somehow monolithic and timeless, detached from the mundanities of modern life, alluding to something more cosmic or ancient, and © well, it’s just a darned album title isn’t it, and it would be a bit rough to draw assumptions about the fellers’ personalities thereupon.
For a more rigorous glimpse into the inner workings of the Trainer/Rosner collective consciousness, cue up their debut long-player. You will be handsomely rewarded. “Terrane” is one of the most simultaneously accessible and uncompromising experimental records to come out of Perth – perhaps ever. The pair’s shared penchant for slow-burn textural development, distant gestural melody and ambient drifting is adapted and forged into a record that is remarkably concise and consistently engaging – you might even call it muscular.
Opener “Velar” is all glassy piano, sparse percussion and ghostly bow strokes, but immediately “String and Stone” reworks similar textures into decisive 4/4, a quiet, sanguine momentum – dance music for sunbeams. “Tyne,” similarly, relies on repetition, and nods towards Trainer’s pop and post-rock roots. Other tracks – like “Road Movie,” “Straight Crest,” and “Moth Food,” allow more for these textures to float, unbridled by tempo, foregrounding the freeform interplay of campfire crackle and dawntime drone. Yet never does the record drag; my indie-pop-adoring teenage sister likes it; no less is it bound to please the most avid aficionados of experimental soundscaping. Gilded have achieved that special alchemy – transcending “genre” with a record that will appeal to many, sacrificing none of its unique, esoteric quality in the process.
DECIBEL – Stasis Ecstatic (Heartless Robot)
Holding Decibel’s (very beautifully packaged) new gatefold LP in your hands, you’re struck with an inevitable question. How does a group like Decibel – whose work deals so much with experimental engagement with space, real-world acoustics, audiovisual interaction and replicating/subverting traditional performance protocol – condense itself into a standalone sound-document, let alone good old-fashioned vinyl? (Okay, it’s a long-winded question, but it’s still inevitable). The answer lies in having the maturity to fully accept the limitations of the medium, and the artistry to work deftly within them.
Statis Ecstatic’s title lays bare its preoccupations. This is not a record about moving towards a destination; rather rejoicing in stillness and prolonged experience/exploration. Nor are we talking about the mantric, somehow sexual (getting Freudian here) elation that can accompany fiercely repetitive “aimless” music (the “motorik” beat, the hefty droning of doom metal, the relentless pulse of house beats). No – the ecstasy here is more subtle, mysterious, phantasmic – but it’s a sort of joy nonetheless. While it might rightly called a “challenging” listen, the strange adventures within Statis Ecstatic are by no means a chore to experience.
Rather than try to encapsulate the very eclectic, cross-disciplinary and often site-specific nature of their performances, Decibel have wisely forged an album that is both focused and atmospheric. Yes, the pieces herein do operate at academic and intellectual levels, employing experimental technologies, innovative scoring styles and extended techniques. But importantly, they are mood-inducing and aurally enticing too. Pervading these soundscapes is the sense of something ghostly and just out-of-sight, like the inexplicable presence felt in a haunted house (indeed, Linsday Vickery’s “Ghosts of Departed Quantities” readily alludes to sonic specters). Drones, strings, woodwind, feedback, cymbals, electronics, vocals and even the odd spy-rock guitar mingle in an outer-space void of cavernous reverb to produce an hour of sound that is as seductive as it is unsettling. The record’s intriguing conclusion is performed by Stuart James on a sound-invention by Dwellingup-dweller Alan Lamb called “The Infinity Machine.” Using wires and magnets, the machine provides a sonic articulation of chaos theory, and a capacity to endlessly reconfigure strange, industrial and otherworldly sounds – until at last the record spins around a single note for a seemingly indefinite duration. How better to end a record about ecstatic stasis than with “infinity” – the most mysterious, sublime and curiously static proposition of them all.