Another week, another Bristol release. OK, in actual fact this one came out a few weeks back but I’m still clearing the stack and finding things I’d actually forgotten about. That’s not really on in this case because Bristol lad Bruce has tapped into a rich vein of form this year and has become pretty difficult to avoid for long.
Not that you’d want to. I’m Alright Mate (Timedance)is another left field and thoroughly individual take on a techno sound which owes almost as much as to an exploration of themes and internalized mood as it does to raw sound. His last release, The Trouble With Wilderness on Idle Hands evoked an aura of deep melancholy, dripping with a rainy ambience, and bringing everything together with an understated sense of melodic invention. While I’m Alright Mate steps away from the previous record’s cold dreaminess, and gives the proceedings a bit of a boot up the arse, it remains very much in hock to Bruce’s increasingly sophisticated sense of emotional space and distance. The title track itself might well be a shifting slice of 4/4, but those pretensions serve more as a climbing frame so that the unsettling threads of growling mood and snakelike grooves can climb up there and tie your poor brain in knots, rather than allowing the tune to cater to the dance floor.
Post Rave Wrestle on the flip is even more demented, hitting things up with a deliciously broken piece of utterly deconstructed bonkers rave which kind of makes me think of Andy Weatherall getting lost and worried inside his own dreams. Somewhere out in the wilds there’s a communist era Czech cartoon that needs this as it’s soundtrack. This is techno that generally doesn’t give a damn, and that means it very techno. Disturbingly lush.
While it would be pretty wrong to suggest that Ioannis Savaidis’ NSA Trusted Networks on Lower Parts hails from a similar part of the psyche as the Bruce record, I think it shares a border. Primarily unfolding as a collection of ambient pieces, it nevertheless contains much that stretches it away from the more chin-scratching locales. I don’t have a great track record with ambient stuff. Most of the ambient I’ve ever given a stuff about has, in fact, pretty much been normal techno with wibbly bits. I don’t think I’ve got the patience for it, if I’m honest, and secretly think it appeals to the same people who love to tell me David Foster Wallace was a genius. I get nervous when there are no drums, and start fretting about how droney the drone sounds are. What can I say? I’m a barbarian.
And, at first, I’ll admit that NSA Trusted Networks had me thinking of the old music for schools programs from the early 80s. In fact, that isn’t really meant as a slight because the thing ..Trusted Networks shares with that earlier styling lies not in the sounds, but in a certain form of orchestration – something I often find to be missing from a lot of ambient music. Without it, it becomes a marsh, a swamp of aimlessness which is fine enough for brief interludes but patience-testing over the longer distance.
Beyond that, the four tunes offered up here cross over from pure ambient to steal facets of IDM’s depth and synthwave’s use of percussive melody, and indeed NSA Trusted Networks shares a great deal of DNA with synthwave’s retro-aimed feeling of place and time. Thematically too, it isn’t that far removed. This is a record of slowly billowing alien sounds, the singing of the wind across lakes of liquid heavy metals, the slow erosion of exo-worlds. But those images are to fool you, because they exist only in the minds of those trapped by the constraints of the modern world. They’re prison fantasies of freedom because, under the pastel hues and winding melodies, there is the feint but unmistakable sense of everything being slightly off-kilter; a nervous paranoia which porpoises through the half-light of the pads and incandescent percussive touches and, paradoxically, reaches its most unsettling point on the otherwise gentle title track right at the end.
Uneasy listening is seldom so easy on the ears. Although I still find myself praying for a hand clap, or break of snares, even I can appreciate that the complexity of emotion and themes is seldom as straight forward as I pretend. Somehow I don’t think Savaidis needed to be taught that.