Abul Mogard, "Works"

Sunday, 11 February 2018 00:00 Anthony D'Amico Reviews - Albums and Singles
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cover imageAccording to legend, this enigmatic Serbian composer became deeply interested in music as a means of trying to recapture the sounds of the metal factory that he had worked at in Belgrade.  If this 2016 collection of his early cassette releases succeeded in that aesthetic objective, that factory must have quite a terrifying edifice, as the best pieces evoke a relentless and pummeling mechanized horror akin to Fritz Lang's Metropolis.  More importantly, some of these songs are absolutely mesmerizing and Mogard intersperses his lengthy industrial trance spells with some unexpectedly tender and melancholy glimpses of light.  Bittersweetly, Mogard has since left this revelatory phase behind to devote himself to more overtly beautiful and transcendent fare, yet every time I put this album on, I am sucked deeper and deeper into its complex evocation of mercilessly inhuman machinery poignantly mingled with soul and bleak radiance.  To some degree, I wish I had covered Works back when it came out, but I suspect it needed some time to grow on me before I could fully appreciate it for what it is: one of the true masterpieces of the last decade.

Ecstatic

Abul Mogard's self-titled debut initially appeared as a self-released CDr back in 2012 before being more formally reissued later that year as a cassette on Zombi's VCO Records.  Looking back, it is remarkable how fully formed, varied, and powerful his vision was even from that modest first step, as the relentlessly churning and seething "Drooping Off" remains one of the most stunning and heavy pieces in the Mogard oeuvre.  The sizzling and corroded beauty of "The Purpose of Peace" is yet another essential piece, while the murky, forlorn psychedelia of Works' opening "Despite Faith" is not all that far behind.  Notably, however, there are a few songs from that release that did not make it Works.  The same is true of 2013's Drifted Heaven: only three songs from each release appear here.  As a result, Works is not exactly a comprehensive retrospective of Mogard’s earliest work, so much as an idealized history–there is almost no need to delve into the full cassettes because all of the strongest pieces are collected here and the less dazzling fare was culled with fairly unerring judgment.  There is one notable exception, however, as the epic "Android Manouvres" did not make the cut, presumably due to its somewhat extreme length.

The three pieces from Drifted Vision wisely do not depart much from the bold aesthetic vision of Mogard’s debut, yet they do exhibit some significant advancement in his execution and compositional approach.  My personal favorite is "Tumbling Relentless Heaps," a mercilessly propulsive mechanized march of fried electronics, fluttering psychedelic flourishes, and brooding menace.  The other two pieces from Drifted showcase Mogard's more meditative side, however.  "Post Crisis Remembrance" initially takes shape as a blurrily elegiac ambient reverie, but gradually darkens in tone as a rumbling undercurrent slowly swells and increasingly gnarled and distressed tones bubble up from its depths.  Elsewhere, the slow-burning and achingly beautiful "Airless Linger" sounds like a lovelorn android from the future trying to replicate a great Tim Hecker album.

The final three pieces are taken from Mogard's 2015 The Sky Had Vanished cassette, which appears in its entirety here.  It is a bit more varied than the previous releases, acting as something of a bridge between Mogard’s darkly mantric factory-inspired beginnings and the more radiant, melodic fare to come.  "The Sky Had Vanished," for example, is a prime example of the former, steadily building in roiling intensity to a heavily pulsing thrum spewing forth metallic harmonics.  The following "Desires Are Reminiscences By Now," however, takes quite a different tone altogether.  It is quite a quietly lovely and meditative piece, but its warmly languorous chord progression eschews all of the industrial throb and heft of the earlier work.  Some corroded textures remain, thankfully, but the piece still feels like a curious anomaly–like a cloudy and regret-infused Eno pastiche.  It is still quite good, of course–it just seems like a slightly awkward first step towards crafting more nakedly beautiful and unambiguously human fare (a direction he eventually perfected with 2017’s "All This Has Passed Forever").  In any case, the true centerpiece of Sky is the 18-minute "Staring at the Sweeps of the Desert."  Stylistically, it feels like the blurring together of the other two pieces, as a deep, throbbing bass pattern provides a sense of weary forward momentum beneath a bittersweet haze of smeared and blurry synth chords.  It also marks a more ambitious compositional approach, as the original theme eventually dissolves to make way for bleakly shuddering coda.

I suppose it would be overreaching a bit to say that Works is a flawless collection, but the minor flaws are irrelevant in the face of how many truly stellar pieces are assembled in just one place.  Each of the individual tapes is certainly excellent, but experiencing the distillation of several years of Mogard’s best work at once is like being hit by a goddamn meteor.  Songs like "Drooping Off" and "Tumbling Relentless Heaps" struck me just as profoundly as any of the previous masterpieces that have knocked me sideways over the years (Soundtracks for the Blind, All The Pretty Horses, etc.), which is an experience that has become increasingly rare as I grow older and more jaded.  It is nice to know that I still have the capacity for wonder and awe, even if I do not get to use it much.  Rapturous praise of the content aside, I also love the scope of this collection, as it completely encapsulates a glorious and ephemeral window in Mogard’s evolution before he moved onto newer frontiers.  I love that later work as well, but the era covered here remains Mogard's most distinctive and magical phase for me, as the "ghost in the machine" mingling of relentless industrial dread and human warmth is heavy, deep, and emotionally affecting all at once.  Works is an absolutely canonical collection from an absolutely canonical artist.

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Last Updated on Monday, 12 February 2018 19:56