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Haptic, "The Medium"

It's dark outside, the windows are open, and the light in the room is slowly bleeding into the shapelessness outside. A trickle of sound pours out of the speakers and evokes a half-frightened reflex; it isn't clear whether something just moved outside the house or if Haptic just added a new element to their droning melancholy. In slow, measured steps, and with liquid ease, The Medium plays out like a subdued, but troubling soundtrack to an unreleased David Lynch film. It's filled with both tense uncertainty and cool atmospheres drowned in low-end heaviness.

 

Flingco Sound

Haptic - The Medium

Haptic's technique is simple and direct. They begin both sides of their debut LP on Flingco Sound with metallic, but somewhat indecipherable drones. After introducing this trembling, often uncertain base, Haptic slowly breathes a plethora of tiny details into their music. The sensation is, at first, a disorienting and troubling one. I mistook several sounds on the record for sounds occurring outside my window. As the sounds intensified, I began to wonder what kind of thing was lurking about just feet away from me. Sizzling fire, dragging feet, muffled voices, bouncing balls, the buzz of electricity, and the whir of motors all find a place for themselves on The Medium. These bits of noise, samples, and odd productions are arranged such that they form convincing and detailed narratives. Within minutes of firing up "One" a complete and almost intrusive scenario had formed in my mind. I could see a weary and worn character shuffling down my street with a drained look upon his face. I could see the cigarette in his hand and I could hear the thoughts crushing his brain into a single-minded state. As he stares off into space and as "One" proceeds to work its magic, all manner of details are added to this picture. The drones turn into buzzing lights and the minutiae produced by the band turn into streams of thoughts and uncollected fragments of ideas. The progression of both songs is like peering into the mind of someone fixated on some premise or memory. The point is that their music is strikingly cinematic and well-sequenced. Their arrangements are obviously thought out and carefully planned or their improv skills are of the highest order. Either way, both sides of this record have an odd and satisfying logic about them.

Most of the sounds employed by the band are organic. Haptic's instruments, whether they be cymbals or boxes filled with junk, are largely naked, so it is easy to believe that what sounds like a piece of burning paper is in fact just a piece of burning paper. I highly doubt this is the case, but such nudity amplifies the band's potency. Not only do they craft shifting and somewhat frightening soundscapes, they produce them with objects that anyone would recognize from their everyday lives. The mix of the familiar and the unfamiliar greatly increases the album's proximity to the listener and the extent to which it can produce emotional responses. The human or emotional component of the record is emphasized by a DVD that is included with the first 100 copies of the record. Amid a progression of shimmering surfaces, video artist Lisa Slodki projects a series of human faces. Her repetitive and hypnotic technique, combined with Haptic's ghostly soundtrack, both emphasizes Haptic's cinematic side and increases the dramatic elements already present in the music. The frozen, sometimes listless faces she focuses upon are frightening in and of themselves. All of them seem lost, alone, or completely without emotion, somehow swallowed by the images projected behind them or by the music that is the occasion of their presence. The only sign of happiness is one that is affected for show. Still, Haptic's music isn't simply doom and gloom. It exudes a kind of ease and directness that makes both songs float by rather quickly. The sounds of a manipulated xylophone and gentle bass pulses push the album along and, at some points, add a jazz-like feeling to the entire affair. The band never breaks character, thoug; their droning simplicity and monolithic approach holds the album together from beginning to end. This simplicity lends the band a cool, almost untouchable aura and ultimately turns all the creeping despair they produce into noir-ish calm.

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Review of the Day

PHILIP JECK, "STOKE"
Touch
Philip Jeck always seems to surprise and surpass expectation every time I hear him perform. I've heard him spin out haunting loops for avant garde dancers to strut about to in art spaces. I've heard him spin stickered platters alongside guitarist Vergil Sharkya and fractal videographer Gerd Willschvetz in an underground car park in Liverpool. I've heard his scaffolded ranks of old car boot turntables mash up crackly memory traces from worn needles bumping into wires and stickers in a London gallery. I've heard him go walkabout at a festival opening, cutting up dictaphone recordings with the pause button. After his ambitious quartet of lengthily (r)evolving 'Vinyl Codas' released by the Intermedium label, he returns to Touch with seven shorter live excerpts from performances in Liverpool, Manchester, Osaka, Tokyo and Vienna. With only a single sample Casio keyboard to aid the junkyard turntables spinning varispeed deteriorating vinyl, he necessarily limits his options but unlocks endless potentials from abundant alternate histories coded in the grooves. When he loops records at low speed, worn old cliches morph into haunting new textures. A phantasmal keyboard hoot that forms the bedrock of "Pax" sounds like it might've morphed slowly from a cheesy old J. Geils Band charity shop hit. "Above" cuts scratchy old vinyl into train chug clunks and chicken squawk with some slowed speech narration to explain what exactly isn't going on. "Lambing" is a home recording, soundtracking a film by Lucy Baldwyn, and wouldn't sound out of place on his previous Touch CD 'Surf,' with groaning ghost vox repeating an eerie refrain over the crackle'n'drone spin, until slowly a sunrise glow cracks dawn beneath the locked groove rhythm faultlines. "Vienna Faults" waltz around like a music box in a tumble dryer. There's some crazily mangled sitar "Below," reversing into hollow metal hammering, cut dead by a sudden descending blues guitar riff. "Open" seems to rework familiar noises from 'Surf' into a noisier delayed clatter. "Close" does just that, with some more sitar loops, more meditative but just as playful as before. Stray starry plucked fragments drop in at odd angles until a loop locks and deteriorates to a stutter as a single piano note bashes to infinity. A ghost choir of Hamaiian folk singers emerges from the vinyl crackle fog to bid a fond farewell. If you haven't heard Philip Jeck before, this is not his most immediate recording and 'Surf' or the 'Vinyl Coda' series might be better ports of entry. He has not yet left the building.

 

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