A Journal Of The Dark Arts
It’s been a big last 18 months for Constellation Records, with Angels of the Apocalypse Godspeed You! Black Emperor breaking their silence, and not only a full-length LP from Thee Silver Mt. Zion, but also an EP of techno reimagings (!!), both of which have been garnering mass adoration.
We may be in store for a re-evaluation of all that Constellation stands for: patient and thoughtful art documents that blend classicism with 20th century art movements like musique concrete and minimalism, presented with impeccable graphic design and detail in the packaging.
This re-assessment comes right in the nick of time, as not only the term ‘post rock’ but also the word ‘drone’ are nearly dirty words, thrown around with derision and scorn. If we’re not careful, ‘deep listening’, ‘patient’, ‘thoughtful’ and ‘abstract’ may enter that forbidden lexicon, and we will be left with only brash Pop divas, screaming in yr face for attention.
Hiss Tracts, the duo of David Bryant, from GY!BE and Set Fire To Flames and Kevin Doria from the much missed Growing and Total Life, are here to set the record straight, and warn people against dismissing patient, thoughtful music.
Hiss Tracts began in 2004, when Bryant recorded the last 3 Growing records at The Pines, Bryant’s recording studio in Montreal, originally in collaboration with Karl Lemieux, Godspeed You’s projectionist. They did a performance in 2008 together, and continued amassing material from 2009 – 2013, so this material, in one form or another, has been around for a while, clearly not a hasty and dashed-off PaulStretch artifact. Instead, Shortwave Nights uses an arsenal of slo-motion, weightless electric guitars, field recordings, degraded synths and tape machines to create 10 documents of abstract mental movies, that leave you to draw yr own conclusions.
Too many people hit the term ‘drone music’ and stop there. As if there were only one kind, and only one motivation for making it. First off, the term drone music itself is a bit of a misnomer, as a drone is, by defintion, one note. If there is the slightest bit of motion, it is automatically ‘droney’, at best, and too many people hear graceful, elongated tone poems, label it automatically, and move about.
So, the question is: what kind of drone music is Shortwave Nights?
The dense aural tapestry, where it is unclear where one instrument or tones and another begins, seems as if it has been purposefully flattened, run into one cohesive ecosystem of tones and textures, as if 1001 sound sources have been mixed down on to a single 1/4″ reel-to-reel (which wouldn’t be that surprising, from what i know of these two). The overall sensation i was left with was of someone watching strange home movies, that are poetic, but still personal, abstract, but tactile. It’s like looking at footage of yr lover, lying in the sun, on clean white linen, and missing them. There’s all manner of things going on, but it is all being flattened and projected onto a foldaway projecting screen. The other sensation i was left with was from the title and title track, Shortwave Nights, with lumbering, ponderous playing the part of night itself, and line noise and surface crackles recreate the sensation of a crystal radio set, sputtering into life sporadically. It is the feeling of being trapped in some half-life oubliette, while listening for signs of outside life.
Other reviewers have mentioned similarities to viewing a small town from the expressway, at night, or smoking a cigar over a fence with the neighbor, which just goes to show how many different interpretations subjective music like this can have, which is partially what is so great about this style. It lights up the imagination, yr creative faculties. It asks you to engage, rather than force feeding you obvious answers.
I hadn’t really thought of it until another reviewer brought it up, but they pointed out how GY!BE’s hallmark, F# A# infinity, punctuated tidal waves of orchestral bombast with odd flickerings of tape music, musique concrete, found sounds and feedback, and what an integral part of their original aesthetic that was. The last two GY!BE records have been entirely devoid of these ephemeral moments, which is why it’s important to hear them again, here.
You could view Shortwave Nights as the Grace to GY!BE’s or TSMZ’s Times Of Grace, with Shortwave Nights providing all the mood, ambiance and incidental moments of the latters ‘songs’.
I am also hoping that this record will revitalize the field of abstract noisy guitar releases, the likes of Nadja or Thisquietarmy, as you can do nearly anything with this amplified instrument, and it has serious capacities of emotive, tactile and expressive possibilities, but was overrun and watered down by imitators with little or nothing to say.
Here’s to hoping, also, that this record also points listeners back to Growing, who were one of the 2000s greatest ‘droney’ bands. Their sound sculptures were complex, organic, and ever evolving, which can also be seen in the work of Hiss Tracts. Growing’s works always seemed more colorful, more elaborate, more emotive, more going on than many of the weak-kneed imitators. That same sense of longform evolution can be seen in Hiss Tracts, which is never static and never boring.
While the longform drift of these 10 songs will lend themselves most often to night time listening, Shortwave Nights sounds good any time of day. As i type, the day is lengthening into a glorious spring evening, and the blasted, degraded warp of “Slowed Rugs” dances sinuously on the breeze, casting everything in a hue of thought and remembrance. Not sad, but bittersweet. Make yr spring time a bit more poignant, this year, a bit more thoughtful. Don’t just read a book; write yr own. Go for a walk. Listen to the wind.
These are tone poems, more than ‘songs’, and work both independently as well as collectively. Each song is it’s own intricate ecosystem, with tiny minnowing shards of tremolo being swallowed by bottom feeding low drones, while you watch like a nature documentary.
Here’s to being patient. Here’s to being thoughtful. Here’s to Constellation rising, and bringing Art with it.
Very highly recommended.
RIYL: William Basinski, The Caretaker, Grouper, Bell Orchestre