Jeff Swearengin’s work as a studio maven speaks for itself: credits on records by everyone from HexRx to Youth Code to The Present Moment have cemented his place amongst the current wave of post-industrial still strongly emanating from Los Angeles. His own primary project, Sleep Clinic, exhibits all of the sound design and sculpturing one would expect to find, but often eschews easy classification, even within the wide spread of noise and ambient-adjacent genres. The new Sleep Clinic release is a mammoth double cassette release which shifts between abrasive, squelching noise and deeply meditative drones, but never holds fast to any particular palette for long.
The lines and shapes which adorn Stray Light‘s cover provide some sense as to the aesthetics Swearengin’s working with, ie, generally abstract. The pinging squeals and waves which careen about a claustrophobic Faraday cage in the second of the record’s ten numerically-titled tracks have more in common with pre-industrial experimentalists than any recent noise stylings (or even classic power electronics, if we’re focusing on the cassette format). This isn’t to say that Swearengin (who’s dedicated previous Sleep Clinic releases to the memories of John Balance and Peter Christopherson) is consciously working in a retro mode. The shuddering digital stabs of the fourth piece aren’t too far from some of the deconstructed techno we’ve heard recently from acts like The Sprawl and Herd.
The lengthier pieces found on the second tape cleave towards the ambient end of things, but that’s more a product of how the pieces are constructed rather than their component sounds. A particular tone or timbre will emerge, and then seem to move through the low hums or ambiance which swaddles it, as if Swearengin’s cooked up new sonic organisms in petri dishes and then given them free run to explore themselves and their surroundings. While the second piece on this tape wouldn’t feel out of place on a soporific playlist you might find at a, well, Sleep Clinic, the tweaking waves that follow it certainly wouldn’t produce a good night’s rest. Again, the ambient nature of Sleep Clinic’s work rests in the way sounds seem to maintain but modulate for extended periods, occasionally adhering to meter or melody, but more often simply existing for their own sake.
Stray Light ends with an abruptly cacophonic clatter of some previously languid pitched rhythmic samples, as if whatever experiments Swearengin’s been working on needed to be quickly shuttered. It’s a brusque finish to a record which, while rarely “comforting” in the way drone and ambient often are, is certainly enveloping. Stray Light offers a fully-realised dimension of sound design and reverberation to those who’d care to check easy genre markers at the door.