A Journal Of The Dark Arts
Imagine: it is a lazy Saturday afternoon (shouldn’t be too much of a stretch). Yr whiling away the hours in idyllic reverie, spacing out to episodes of Ancient Astronauts and Fortean documentaries about The Bermuda Triangle. You begin to feel sleepy – yr eyelids get heavy. Suddenly, the sacred geometry of the TV set reaches out like a tuna net, like a plasmatic wave, dragging you through the screen like a latter-day Alice. You are plunged into a wormhole/rabbit-hole world of refracted images, rising and falling like memories of a past life, as recognizable melodies play out in the distance, to be swallowed up by patchworks of sound.
Future Disguises is primarily the project of Brian Ruark, who does double duty in Wichita, KS’ Photonwives. Ruark is the composer of these dreamscapes, who is joined in his disorienting mission by a motley of audio alchemists, who flesh out Ruark’s skeletons with an endocrine system of woodwinds, piano, drums, guitar, and atmospheric vocals.
Alma Mystic Society begins with “alma 01”, coming on with the sound of vinyl crackle, reminding us that we are listening to a record, that we are about to drop the needle (or press play, in this instance) and take a journey. New age documentary recordings, (were these travelers sucked up by another dimension?), as Kimberly Ruark’s creepy little girl vocals intone “just a spoon full of sugar makes the medicine go down,” and “look away”. It gives the feeling of a childhood sick day, or being stuck indoors, being forced to dig for magick wardrobes and high fantasy.
The patchwork of samples gives way to some creeping Twin Peaks ambiance, with shadowy keyboards and a creeping waltz slowly shifting into the brighter, more upbeat “alma 02”. “Alma 02” sounds like a stripped down, major key Six Organs Of Admittance outtake (a b-side to “Thicker Than A Smokey”), with shining bronzed guitar strings being joined, eventually, by some cubist piano figures, after being dismantled into a cloudy landscape.
“Concord” is a more traditionally song-oriented affair, built around the simple-but-awesome bedrock of throbbing post-punk guitars, mission control field recordings, and slight vocals – all of which is, of course, swallowed by fog. There is a slight jazzy hint to “Concord”, in the pulse of Ruark’s guitar, and the abstracted squeak of a saxophone. Forget acid jazz, this is DMT jazz.
This back and forth, this interplay, with songs arising, tuneful and memorable, to be swallowed back into the seafoam of myth and distant memory. Nothing is as it seems with Alma Mystic Society, and don’t get too comfortable. Everything will change, before you know it.
Future Disguises brings to mind the adventurous post-rock of early 2000s Chicago/Louisville, KY, melding jazz, improv, futuristic electronics and non-standard songwriting. But instead of the lush, ready for a Danny Boyle film sound of The Rachels’ or A Silver Mt. Zion, Future Disguises are operating more within the simulacrum. There are moments, like “Squid Teeth Like Old Men”, that sound like Ghost Box doing vaporwave. Instead of trying to sound like a Georgian monastery, Future Disguises sound like a movie about ancient doomed monks, with whirling electric harpsichords and ominous electronic terror.
The fact that Ruark & friends hails from Kansas may be the rosetta stone, revealing the secret beating heart of Future Disguises. I don’t know if you’ve been, but Kansas is flat. Not a whole lot going on. The vacuity is almost hallucinatory, causing tricks of the mind and of the eye; a kind of reverse claustrophobia, akin to the feeling of sublime dread in Algernon Blackwood’s The Willows.
There is a special kind of wonder that comes from an unstimulating place. As a kid, i watched WAY too much television, rented movies, and played vast continents of video games, living in the poison outskirts of Chicagoland. These screens were my windows and my doorways into other worlds, and I still get that feeling of eerie excitation and anticipation when i come across a crumbling old horror film i saw as a kid that someone might get when they explore the old Marsh mansion up the road. Some of us have to make due with our imagination, and make the best of it.
Future Disguises have taken this basic principle and elevated it to the realm of fine art. It is particularly noteworthy, however, in its fluctuating between real, legitimate, excellent songs and musicianship, superseded by trailing vapors and flickers. In this way, Alma Mystic Society bears a sonic resemblance to avant-pop masterpieces such as The Olivia Tremor Control’s Dusk At Cubist Castle, as well as the ambient genre deconstructions of fellow Forestpunk favorites Lost Trail, from North Carolina.
As if this weren’t enough allusions, there’s a bit of goth mysticism on Future Disguises, as well, mostly in the shape of Kimberly Ruark’s high priestess vocals, which has the same chilling childlike wonder as The Cranes’ Alison Shaw.
So you’ve got SF. You’ve got magick and mysticism. You’ve got wingnut Fortean gospel. You’ve got dreamy Lynchian dread. So many moods, so many textures, in a short amount of time.
Future Disguises leave you without a touchstone, without a safety net, leading you further and further into the mystery. It’s a lovely daydream, with the potential to be life-changing.
Major kudos to Brian Ruark and friends for managing to surprise and do something innovative, while still sounding enough like the classics to ring true, like a long lost favorite.
And that’s exactly what this record is: a new favorite, a lost classic. Hard copies come in an edition of 40, a split release between the mighty Reverb Worship and Ruark’s own Megaloid Industries.
If you’d like to read a more detailed, track-by-track review, here’s another take on Alma Mystic Society from The Hare And The Moon‘s Grey Malkin, for our friends The Active Listener.
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