Rashad Becker’s 2013 debut album was a singular and radical work of art, resembling nothing less than field recordings from a sinister extra-dimensional jungle. For this follow-up, however, he apparently opted not to try to blow my mind a second time and instead just deepened and expanded upon what he had already done previously. Naturally, the second volume is every bit as deranged and wrong-sounding as the first, so my favorite hallucinatory and Lovecraftian aural nightmare essentially just became twice as long. I am quite fine with that state of affairs.
Much like its predecessor, the pieces that comprise Traditional Music of Notional Species Vol. II are divided into two categories: themes and dances. While the line between them can be a bit blurry, the "dance" pieces tend to have a little bit more in the way of structure, such as the menacing and mechanized-sounding throb that relentlessly moves forward beneath the cacophonous skwonks and buzzes of "Dances VI." Curiously, however, "Themes VII" boasts a weirdly staggering rhythm that feels more danceable than any of the designated dances. Such odd inconsistencies are inconsequential with an aesthetic as alien and abstract as this one though. (Un)naturally, the actual sounds are every bit as wrong-sounding and unnervingly organic as those of the first volume and similarly difficult to comprehend. For the most part, however, it sounds like this album is primarily the fruit of an inventively misused modular synthesizer, though Becker largely avoids anything that resembles a patch, pattern, melody, or chord. Instead, the surreal chorus of blurts and jabberings feels like a field recording that has been digitized and rendered quite sickly and weird. Granted, plenty of musicians have tried to conjure up the craziest and ugliest sounds imaginable, but Becker is truly on another level altogether, going far beyond the pale with his ambition, imagination, unwavering thematic commitment, and the visceral and crystalline clarity of his engineering. This is a vibrant and fully formed sound world like nothing else.
It is hard to choose a favorite piece, as the primary appeal of this album is that Becker basically dropped me in the middle of a seething, gibbering, and absolutely otherworldly miasma. Consequently, it feels somewhat silly to champion one vignette of squelching, belching, and squirming weirdness over another. Few albums are as audaciously and willfully inaccessible as this one, yet it is so boldly imaginative, richly textured, and disquietingly evocative that it is an endlessly fascinating rabbit hole to get lost in. Still, some of these bizarre fever dreams are admittedly more striking than others, such as the opening "Themes V" which slowly transforms a plinking and metallic percussive motif into an increasingly dense and gnarled eruption of elephantine swoops and growls. The aforementioned "Themes VII" is also quite memorable, resembling a mutant tango mingled with a chorus of gibbering wildlife and ugly, wobbly synth moans in the vein of Throbbing Gristle’s "Hamburger Lady."
While this exactly the kind of album that I spend every year waiting for, it is certainly not going to be for everybody and I can accept that there are some perceivable flaws. I will not accept "deeply inaccessible and weird" as one of them, of course, but these eight pieces definitely feel like a kaleidoscopic and lysergic hall of mirrors that does not ever evolve in any sort of conventional compositional way. To my ears, however, any conspicuous traces of human intervention would completely ruin the vibrant and unnerving illusion that Becker so painstakingly crafted. As far as I am concerned, his judgment was entirely unerring: he set out to make something completely unique, deranged, and alien-sounding and he succeeded beautifully. And then he had the good sense not to fuck it up by over-egging the pudding. If Chris Watson could make a field recording of squelching, gurgling, and slithering cosmic horror, it would probably sound an awful lot like this. Since he presumably cannot and will not do that anytime soon, Rashad Becker's work is probably the closest thing we currently have to a disturbing glimpse through a rupture in the fabric of reality. Cherish it appropriately.