Andrew Dobbels’ XLV project has never wanted for inspiration or its own lateral perspective on post-industrial noise. From the project’s earliest tapes and singles, it’s taken a minimalist approach to the sorts of beats and textures which have fuelled experimentalists from the earliest days of power electronics to recent techno-hybridization. But new tape Spinal Landscape feels like a real step forward, bringing together Dobbels’ uncompromising, stripped-down approach with tightly constructed, hardware-styled sounds.
While previous recent works like the Dissociate EP put the hum of tape feedback and rhythm-less noise in the spotlight, Spinal Landscape trades in loop-driven compositions which sound as though Dobbels has returned to the ur-sources of rhythmic noise via an entirely different route than any of the genre’s Ant-Zen or Hands trailblazers. The interplay between muted kicks and metallic screeches on “Tethers” isn’t so far off from a number of Converter pieces, while the emergent percussion of closer “Whose Habit” recalls Imminent Starvation, but has an off-the-cuff proximity and rawness that feels improvisational and strangely intimate. While those previous artists often connoted whole landscapes, XLV lobs smaller (and thus more tangible) mechanical entities at the listener, who’s left to suss out their circuitry and clockwork as they spasm before them.
Other tracks completely eschew the compositional ebb and flow of pieces like “Tethers”, opting instead for pure looping repetition with only the slightest of variations with which to demarcate the passing of time. “Floaters” simply pushes an already detuned kick through a series of elongating phases and flanges, while “Mute” feels like a vintage dark techno track which has lost half of itself through some mutant strain of bit rot.
The release page for Spinal Landscape notes that it came about after Dobbels “lost his voice for months after an incident at a spinal imaging exam”. That distinctly embodied origin story might explain why the tape feels so promximal and physical. For all of the ostensibly “difficult” sounds it contains, Spinal Landscape doesn’t feel needlessly bellicose or confrontational; it’s presenting the listener with a series of concrete physical sensations and realities which have to be taken on their own accord, free of moralizing or myth-making.