Réal Cardina’s Comaduster is a project that conjures worlds within worlds. The sweeping scope of the project’s songs can distract from their construction in some ways; within their massive stature, each track contains hundreds (and in some cases thousands) of microscopic design choices. Luckily, it’s not necessary to technically understand the intense CPU-melting production that is Cardinal’s trademark because his music has always been infused with distinctly human emotion. That tension between craft and feeling is especially present in new LP Darker Matter, which foregoes the high-concept science fiction narrative of 2017’s Solace in favour of very personal narratives, albeit filtered through Comaduster’s hyper-modern, glitched-out lens.
From a technical standpoint, Darker Matter is every bit the album you would expect. Cardinal’s deep, growling and flowing bass sounds, modulated textures and vast, evolving reverbs are here in legion, each element flowing in and between one another in a widescreen stereo spectrum. Beyond vocals and the occasional touches of guitar and piano the soundset is alien, even by the standards of the bass music that informs Comaduster’s work. What remains remarkable is how much humanity there can be in those shredded, stuttering and warped pieces of audio. Hear how Cardinal’s plaintive voice becomes a far-off klaxon on as the bass frequencies rise up to match “Bad Blood”‘s lyrical emotion, or how the twitching micro-edited flutters of “Fever Rift” are slaved to a rhythm that expands and contracts with the feeling of anxious breathing. It’s not a coincidence that the metaphors most at hand for describing the design of Dark Matter are distinctly organic; the way each elements is shaped and manipulated feels anything but robotic. Synthetic? Yes. Unnatural? No.
That’s an important factor in understanding the record, as beyond the building blocks of its construction, this is by far the most ornate record Comaduster has produced from an arrangement perspective. Where preceding albums Hollow Worlds and Solace relied on more classic songcraft, Darker Matter is often far more abstract, frequently forgoing notions of verses and choruses. A song like “failure2” is essentially comprised of movements: its syncopated rhythm breaks down and creates places for the individual melodic sounds – from delicate synth tones to guitars to voices – to exist before coming back together in a new formulation. Even more counterintuitive is the moving “Pyramids”, a song that begins with a dense, abstracted version of the lovely and simple section that defines its second half, a song delivered in inverse of itself. This is where the relatability of Comaduster’s material shines most. You could spend hours dissecting the way “Time We Have Left (Song for Jonas)” is assembled from whirring basses and sweeps, but its powerful and personal lyrics are what defines it.
It’s a difficult, if not impossible to really contain Comaduster’s work in the space of a standard review, especially on this LP which is by turns impressionistic, monolithic, ephermeral and immediate. I’ve listened to it easily a dozen times and I still don’t feel like I fully grasp its intricacies. What stands out are its contrasts; a record that can have a song like the crashing, screeching, mutating title track share space with the beautiful, folky “Riverbound” (one of two standout guest spots from vocalist Mari Kattman) without ever feeling contradictory or incongruous is a hell of a thing. As with all of Réal Cardinal’s work, understanding it is less important than feeling it, never moreso than on Darker Matter. Recommended.