A Journal Of The Dark Arts

Unheimlich Pop: The Sone Institute – Where Moth and Rust Consume (Front & Follow)

hauntology album review

On his first album in six years, Roman Bezdyk drags ’90s electronica into the moth-eaten world of Hauntology.
Hauntology has expanded far beyond the confines of experimental electronic music from the ’60s and ’70s that was initially put forth by Ghost Box records. The Caretaker expanded the bubble backwards in time to absorb haunting, melancholic Big Band music, while Burial resurrected ’90s rave in search of the isolation buried in its circuit boards. Pye Corner Audio made the connection to ’80s electronic music and New Wave explicit when he moved into Ghost Box’s town square.

On his first album in six years, The Sone Institute seeks to expand that territory even further, pushing Hauntology’s shimmer to absorb the bombastic breakbeats and head-twirling braindance of early IDM into its mouldering, bedsit world, Along the way, Roman Bezdyk, the mastermind behind The Sone Institute, refines the palate of ’80s electronic music even further, creating epic, moody, lysergic 8-bit soundtracks for existentialist Atari games.

In this brave, strange new world, the neon putrescence of ’90s optimism moves down the hall from Hauntology’s usual creaking organs and rinkety-dink rhythm boxes. It’s like a rave held in a West Midlands bingo parlour, with Mark E. Smith and Ekoplekz doing a B2B dj set.

Bezdyk describes Where Moth and Rust Consumes as a “pop record.” If so, it’s of the Brian Eno/David Sylvain school of ArtPop, which blends interesting thoughts and concepts with an accessible tunefulness. Only one song on Where Moths and Rust Consumes features vocals proper, the mood-setting album opener “I Only Exist,” which pairs surreal, collaged, cut-up lyrics over a mechanoid drum machine beat and some spindly, spidery New Wave funk guitar. The lyrics suggest the narrator is some sort of virtual pleasure bot, who will die as soon as their operator pulls the plug. It puts the obsessive romantic gestures of New Wave in an existential, virtual void, like a Lloyd Dobler replicant holding a boombox over his head for eternity, as all the universe’s lights fade to black.

Many of the retroactive electronic sounds and styles are given a more modern sheen, thanks to strong, up-front drum programming, crystalline digital reverbs, and futurist filter sweeps. At times, Where Dust and Moths Consume sounds almost like late-2000s Glitch Hop, like the sturdy beats and format synthesis of “Justice – As Is.” It doesn’t succumb to the endorphin-abusing song structures of most post-Dubstep music. Wait for the drop, and yr going to be waiting a long time.

Those looking for more classic Hauntological sounds won’t be disappointed, either. There’s the woozy Disney-fied vocal samples of “Winter Is Dead” and the brittle, surreal exotica of “Justice – As Is.” And, finally, there is the warm, melting ambiance of album closer “God Bless You,” rife with Boards Of Canada pastoralism, all organs, flutes, and craclkle.

Ultimately, Where Moth and Dust Consume speaks to a refinement of vintage tools and techniques. Drum machines, FM synthesizers, echo boxes and delays are mixed and mastered to glowing perfection, in contrast to the funky fug of the earliest Hauntological records. It also speaks to a strong songwriting sensibility, which is perhaps the most exciting thing about The Sone Institute. It’s not that common to find some with the Golden Ears that Pop Music calls for with a more experimental or exploratory bent. That’s why we need to keep mining the past, our work is not yet done. Experimentation and adventure are truly thrilling when paired with High Style and keen artistry.

Where Moth and Dust Consume is the first installation in a new series from the essential Front & Follow label, called Ex Post Facto, which will focus on more of these explorations. Let this be the beginning of a new Janus-faced Pop Music/electronica, looking in the rearview but keeping The Future in sight.

Where Moth and Dust Consume is out now on Front & Follow records.
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