Snowbeasts & Solypsis
A collaboration linking artists, labels, and genres which have run through underground American electronics for more than two decades, Firelands exists well outside of whichever of the moment trends you’d care to point to in industrial-adjacent music. Long known for his downtempo and drum and bass work as Codec, Rob Galbraith’s been working as Snowbeasts alongside Elizabeth Virosa (whose own solo work tilts towards the ethereal and neoclassical) for nearly a decade, bringing a deeply moody and textured approach to downtempo rhythms. They’re once again joined here by James Miller, aka Solypsis, whose more agitated work abuts breakcore and glitch, and as with their 2020 collaboration, despite the ostensible differences in the two projects, Firelands finds them meeting halfway with a record delving into bass, techno, and rhythmic noise.
It’s rare that a collaborative record like this immediately gets across the respective interests of all involved and finds a harmony between them, but that’s just the case with opener “Topaz”, where redlined and bitcrushed blasts of noise are juxtaposed with the sort of smokey atmospherics one might expect given the project’s title, and Virosa’s wordless vocals swooping back and forth in the mix. Drawing back to whichever periods of IDM, breakcore, and downtempo one might care to name as well as acknowledging the more woozy style of cinematic ambience which has shaped recent periods of post-industrial production, Firelands ably touches upon just about every style at which its creators have tried their hands (and sounds distinctly American – the work of the Death Camp Audio clique feels cut from the same cloth).
One of Firelands‘ more subtle charms is its ability to make a virtue of the unrelenting and repetitive nature of its sounds; the harsh bluntness that often comes with rhythmic noise and breakcore will be offset with a flourish or two, but never to the extent that the mechanical grit at the heart of the pieces is occluded by overproduction. Odd bits of inspired and singular sound design can be found amidst the monochromia of the beats and drones; the bleating warbles which adorn the concrete beats and metal staircase arpeggios of “Collapsing Overhead” carry an organic sense of panic, and the wet squeaks on “Apogee and Nadir” have clocklike quirkiness. Elsewhere, decidedly wet and organic percussion on “Approaching Fire” connotes the heyday of drum and bass without ever cashing in on its most overt markers, while a synthesized sax takes over the droning.
Hovering around Firelands is Galbraith and Virosa’s work with Component Records. Plenty of Miller’s solo work has seen release under the label as well as Galbraith’s, but the larger legacy of Component is just as instructive. From the turn of the millennium onward, it was an entity which linked a range of producers from multiple styles who were perhaps beginning to realise how much they had in common and how they could cross-pollinate in the wake of the arrival of powernoise. In revisiting some of those same overlaps, Firelands feels like a fitting homage to that larger nexus of work.