Wednesday, October 21, 2009
Kevin Drumm: Imperial Horizon
[I might alter this slightly, since I wrote it in one session, but it is basically the semi-complete version].
After his well regarded noise masterpiece "Sheer Hellish Miasma" was released in 2002, Kevin Drumm would, after a number of limited editions and collaborations, would release perhaps one of the best musical statements of his career: the sublime Imperial Distortion. Often compared to Aphex Twin's landmark "Selected Ambient Works Volume II", due to the length of the individual tracks (with none being under thirteen minutes long, and the longest reaching just shy of twenty minutes) and the manner in which both albums create solemn and beautiful soundscapes which reward both casual relaxation and concentrated listening experiences. His latest album, "Imperial Horizon" is a logical extention of the ideas first explored in "Imperial Distortion", only now taken to their logical extreme: a single sixty-four minute landscape of sparse synths. In short: a triumph.
The previous album had dealt with themes of paralysis ("Guillian-Barre"), mortality ("We All Get It In The End"), and the tragic story of Christine Chubbuck ("More Blood And Guts"). Given that "Just Lay Down And Forget It" sounds much like an expanded version of segments towards the end of "More Blood And Guts", it is worth explaining the meaning behind the phrase and the person behind it (Christine Chubbuck is mentioned specifically in the CD design of "Imperial Distortion" with the phrase: "Bringing You The Latest In Blood And Guts - Christine Chubbuck").
Christine Chubbuck was a Floridian news reporter whom in 1974 shot herself during a live television broadcast (which arguably influenced the opening premise of the 1976 movie Network). It was discovered later that she had, throughout her life, suffered from several bouts of depression, focused mainly around her chronic inability to find and/or maintain a relationship with anyone. Furthermore, her self-deprecating manner often deflected any sort of compliment or consideration shown to her.
Several days before her suicide, the news director had cut one of her stories short in order to cover a shoot-out. The owner of the station, Robert Nelson, argued that the staff should focus on "blood and guts". On July 15, 1974, she began her segment by covering several national news stories for a few minutes. After technical problems prevented a segment on a local shooting from running, Chubbuck simply stated, "In keeping with Channel 40's policy of bringing you the latest in blood and guts, and in living color, you are going to see another first — attempted suicide." As predicted by the script of the program she had included, she was taken to Sarasota Memorial Hospital and was pronounced dead fourteen hours later.
As for the music itself, it is (without resorting to cliche) immensely difficult to adequately put into words. I know I have used that phrase and conceptual convention before, but when nearly every other review and critique says something to the same effect, one knows they are probably on to something. A series of delicate, sustained synth tones solemnly proceed to evolve along the course of an hour, alongside bass hums that appear seemingly only when the mood or development of the present moment requires them to, at times disappearing completely. While there is a central theme that is cyclical throughout the work, the song is far from stagnant or boring, and headphone listening reveals a staggering amount of subtle variation and permutation with the seemingly limited auditory resources presented. Although I seriously doubt that there can be a consensus to words or phrases one can use to describe the tone of this album, I have seen the word "glassy" used several times various places, and it seems to fit well. Yet, while this may be a delicate work, I would hesitate to describe it as fragile, as there is a definite strength and confidence lurking behind the unpretentious veneer of the composition.
Ultimately, as with any good minimalist ambience, this experience is one of near- mystical qualities (even if you do not prescribe to any specific belief system) and perhaps even evoking emotional qualities. The best effects, however, are attained through listening to the album in it's entirety, uninterrupted. Therein lies the only possible fault of the album: the sheer magnitude and scope of it's very existence. Once you begin to listen to it, within ten minutes, if you stop for any reason, you may notice a physical difference upon ceasing, so pervasive are the tones and rhythms that one experiences. As I write this, I am finding halfway through the song, every few minutes it becomes difficult to continue typing. Not only due to the predisposition of my brain to concentrate on the song and the relative late hour in which I type this, but also due to the emotional memories and resonances that arise during listening to this work.
You perhaps might not experience this album in a manner as I have, but at the very least, if you have even the slightest interest in minimalism, ambient music, or even electronic music in general, I highly urge you to consider picking this album up. Now. It truly is the successor to Aphex Twin's ambient work, a timeless statement of mortality, inevitability, and melancholic sadness. Highest recommendation.
The album can be ordered through most major and independent retailers.
Kevin Drumm (Wikipedia)
Kevin Drumm (Myspace Fan Page)
Guillain–Barré syndrome info (Wikipedia)
Christine Chubbuck (Wikipedia)