After a couple of years of one-off tracks posted online and a split 7″ with Xiu, Brooklyn-by-way-of-Nashville’s Spatial Relation have finally released their first proper solo release, which delivers on the promise of that initial work: classic minimal synth which manages to feel formally discomforting and alienating at every turn. The component parts of Thoughtcrime are simple enough: minimal drum machines, filters slowly torquing over simple, bleeping synths, and disaffected vocals. That simple enough recipe was tweaked to innumerable effects by countless classic bands, though, and Spatial Relation follow through by quickly establishing a mood and tone which doesn’t just feel like their own but evolves over the course of these five tracks. Opening cut “Dangerous Modulations” has no small amount of bounce and swing, with some simple drum fills doing more than their share of the heavy lifting. “Stoic Plays” opts for a more brusque and clipped feel, with the repeated “Everything’s wrong / Nothing’s right” mantra giving the tune a bit of an ADULT. vibe. Things get far more unnerving in the home stretch, though, with “Escape Your Backmen”‘s wormy self-contradiction and self-consumption resisting any easy groove, and closer “Necessary Components” building an understated frantic itch that receives no scratch or catharsis. With an LP in the works later this year, Spatial Relation seem to finally be building up some steam, and Thoughtcrime‘s a great demonstration of how they’re able to marshal classic motifs to their own banner.
Michael A. Morton
The distinction between an album being credited to “Michael A. Morton” as opposed to “Displacer” felt a little bit arbitrary when we first heard about this record, but after a few listens we can begin to understand why Morton might want to keep Nine Syllables at a distance from his established IDM moniker. For starters, there’s the “no presets or samples made outside of January” stipulation placed on it (and a couple of other releases done by folks in Morton’s circles). Just as people tackling National Novel Writing Month are probably better off aiming for Hemingway-esque brevity than, say, a Peter F. Hamilton space opera, Morton opts for a more stripped-down approach here than he has on lusher Displacer offerings. He’s certainly not phoning it in, though. The strategy on a number of tracks seems to be establishing a synth lead, like the simple rising scale on “Toh” or the syncopated garage stutter on “Sha”, and then slowly shift the shape and feel of the rhythms and atmospherics underneath those more surface elements. It’s a handy little sleight of hand which both stresses the immediate impressionism of these pieces, but also shows how much dynamism can be wrought from relatively simple shifts in a short space of time. While we’re sure the next Displacer album will be bringing a whole other bag of tricks, Nine Syllables‘ smooth minimalism offers plenty of space for interstitial reflection.
Chris Gilbert’s Mild Peril project took an interesting detour into the whimsical and fantastical sound influenced by new beat and and italo with last year’s excellent Matter, a pleasant contrast to the trad-synth explorations of his Cosmic Angst alter-ego. While the former release demonstrates Gilbert has no issue writing with immediacy and accessibility in mind, his latest as CA is a proggy, far-out cosmic affair, consisting of one massive track divided into four movements. “Mytheme I-IV” starts slow with some washy synth pads and delayed synth arps, gradually adding more and more rhythmic elements at half time before breaking out into a full on bouncing rhythm complimented by plucky chords and the a killer synth lead. It’s no less catchy than any of the work Gilbert has done in the past, but the presentation suggests a different perspective, creating new contexts for the thoughtful and elegant programming that makes up his oeuvre. In the absence of indexing the listener is obliged to take the journey with Cosmic Angst, our tendency towards inattention neutralized by an ever changing and evolving set of sounds from beyond the stars.