After a lengthy six-year hiatus, this long-running bi-coastal duo have unexpectedly resurfaced with a new LP of buzzing, bass-heavy drones. I am not sure if Disorder necessarily counts as a radical departure given Growing's history of constant re-invention, but it is certainly a remarkably far cry from their last full-length (2010's dance-damaged and sampler-centric PUMPS!). It also bears little resemblance to the more shimmering and gently psychedelic fare for which Growing is best known. Instead, the dominant aesthetic seems to be that of Kevin Doria’s recent pure drone work as Total Life, though that vision sounds artfully blurred together with Joe DeNardo's own (noisier) Ornament project, adding some welcome layers of depth and harmonic complexity. While it does not necessarily recapture the magic of the duo's prime, it makes up for it by opening a promising and surprisingly visceral new chapter.
Growing has been compared to a lot of other artists over the years as they have evolved, but none of the familiar names are remotely relevant anymore. With Disorder, Doria and DeNardo seem to be looking back into the past to the early days of electronic minimalism, albeit with some much rougher edges thrown into the mix. The most apt summary that I can conjure is this: picture Eliane Radigue doing a solo improv show with a sine wave generator; some distortion pedals; a large, rusty fan; and an ancient and fitfully operational air conditioner. That just about nails it, I think
The first half of Disorder commences with a slowly sweeping flange over a dense bed of humming and buzzing sustained tones of indeterminate source. The flanging is subtly hallucinatory and creates a useful kind of structure and pulse, but the real activity is sneakily hiding in the deceptively static-sounding foundation. At first, Doria and DeNardo just slip in subtle changes in harmonic coloration, but after about five minutes, some harsher feedback-like tones intrude and the piece makes an unexpected chord change. No further chord changes immediately follow, but the tone of piece is transformed into something more throbbing and dynamically unusual as the flanging becomes more distant and spectral. At that point, the piece begins to take shape in earnest, as a host of overtones and buzzing oscillations glacially ebb and flow over the gently undulating drones. It is quite a quietly impressive trick, taking the distortion-heavy "amplifer worship" aesthetic of bands like Earth and Sunn O))) and using it as a backdrop for the small-scale pleasures of a well-crafted cloud of shifting overtones. In classic "vinyl release" fashion, however, a grinding new "locked groove"-style motif emerges from the reverie to ride out of the final few minutes of the side. Fortunately, I like that part too, but it does sound like a completely different piece. On the bright side, drone music is especially conducive to making such moves seem relatively seamless.
The second side of the album begins with a steady bass throb, but the melodic foreground is comparatively kinetic, as some hollow-sounding guitar feedback slowly moans and pulses. While the guitars initially sound like they are going to mass into a roiling maelstrom, they instead cohere into a restrained rhythm that is out of phase with the underlying bass hum, albeit not in a particularly rewarding way. That basic theme is somewhat enlivened by some harmonics and overtones, but the piece does not truly come alive until a squall of guitar noise blossoms into another obsessive locked-groove motif that sounds half like industrial machinery and half like a relentless robotic juggernaut slowly bulldozing a dystopian futuristic landscape. As much as I enjoy that unexpected twist, Doria and DeNardo do not do all that much with their cool new theme for quite some time, opting to embellish it only with a quavering haze of distant and ghostly feedback moans. Eventually, however, a similarly mechanical and shuddering counterpoint emerges and an erratic and mesmerizing polyrhythm takes shape. The final few minutes are the payoff, as all the thickly buzzing instrumentation disappears, pulling back the curtain to reveal quite a fascinating and complex skeleton of moving parts.
To their credit, Disorder is definitely not the album I would have expected Doria and DeNardo to make after being apart for so many years: Growing's erratic trajectory always at least seemed to be heading towards vaguely more and more accessible, melodic, and electronic-based territory. Consequently, I expected them to either look backwards toward their own prime or instead pick up roughly where they left off and try to rekindle some of their upward momentum. Instead, they completely mashed the "reset" button and made a deep plunge back into the subterranean. The Growing of Disorder genuinely sounds like a band that might have beaten up the Growing that made PUMPS! (an observation that I mean in the best possible way). Of course, on another level, this release makes perfect sense and is probably the most honest album that the duo could have possibly made: Disorder is an improbably natural-feeling culmination of the stripped-down and darker directions that both artists have been exploring lately in their own solo careers. While this is not a perfect release (the second half feels a bit too meandering and unfocused for my liking), the flaws lie only in the execution and the pacing: I have absolutely no qualms at all regarding the vision. At its best, Disorder strikes the perfect balance of power, nuance, simplicity, and machine-like repetition.