I am almost always intrigued by the eclectic and unusual inspirations behind Marc Richter albums and this latest full-length for Thrill Jockey is no exception. The core concept at the heart of this one is the "hybridity within each and every one of us," which Richter set out to mirror through a mixture of self-created sounds and manipulated samples. Things got more interesting along the way, however, as Richter had the epiphany that his own methods are quite similar to artificial intelligence "hallucinations," which is a phenomenon in which an overloaded AI starts perceiving non-existent patterns or spewing incorrect or nonsensical conclusions.
Beyond that, the methods behind this album remain an enigma to me, as does the inspiration behind the album's curious title, though Richter does note that the song titles borrow phrases from poetry and mythology with a deliberate leaning towards erotic innuendos and the ridiculous. Naturally, most of the humor and ridiculousness that found its way into these sound collages is far too buried or oblique to be readily apparent to listeners, but I had no trouble at all grasping that At Zeenath Parallel Heavens is yet another excellent Black to Comm album. In fact, this might be one of the most beautifully focused and immersive albums that Richter has ever released.
The album's description suggests that "Richter's audio occultism" was pushed into "even more divine, transcendent territory" than usual, which is an interesting claim given the rest of his discography. It may very well be an accurate one, as there are several pieces that achieve a sublime or celestial level of beauty, but Richter's path to transcendence is not without some hard detours into nightmare territory along the way. That said, the opening descent into dreamlike bliss does last for two full songs. The first, "Then Began the Harp to Fashion," is a lush swirl of subtly warping drones, quivering whimpers, skittering percussive clicks, rhythmic throbs, and jangling metal. It is a hell of a piece, as it elegantly and organically morphs and swells like a sentient supernatural haze, but the host of strange and beautiful textures that Richter unveils are a recurring pleasure for the album's entire duration. Unexpectedly, however, that opener is immediately eclipsed by the following "Steep Thy Plumage in His Sweetness." The piece deceptively opens with a motif that sounds like a stretched and slowed reverie of brooding strings, but a host of sensuous textures gradually creep in until it becomes a swooningly gorgeous melange of hisses, oscillations, choral voices, and gentle throbs worthy of its archaically horny title. Also, despite being only four-minutes long, that slow-motion heaven somehow manages to blossom into an unhurried epic that feels like a tender (if deconstructed) ballad sung by a lovesick robot.
The situation becomes considerably more gnarly with "Never Heed the Tongues of Wooers," however, as that otherwise great advice is soundtracked by a menacing fog of squirming, curdled strings and infernal ululations. Unexpectedly, the mood brightens into a lovely fadeout of drones and subtly spacy synth tones after a cathartic percussion interlude. The fragile beauty lingers on for the following "Time Will Fly on Equal Pinions," but the respite from sinister-sounding mindfuckery abruptly ends with "La société des rêves," as oozing, unnerving drone swells and weirdly springy thuds provide an eerie backdrop for overlapping vocal loops of a French child. That weirdness only continues to deepen, as the piece is further enhanced by a stammering brass fanfare and violently disruptive splashes of warped choral voices.
The following "Musik im Schatten" draws out the darkness a little bit longer, resembling a heavy drone performance in a metalworking shop with sporadic sirens in the distance, but the final two pieces bring the album to a close in more warmly sublime fashion (even the piece that translates as "Slime of Ignorance," which I dearly hope is not another erotic innuendo). Richter still has one final surprise up his sleeve, however, as the final "On the Grass Her Shoes of Deer-Skin" feels like a shimmering exotica-inspired mirage of a moonlit grotto. That is quite a delightful note to end on, as it makes me feel like I was just spat out onto a tropical beach by some kind of phantasmagoric theme park ride that felt like it lasted for several lifetimes (and just in time to hit the tiki bar before eagerly getting back in line to experience the whole mind-melting ride again!). This is a truly wonderful headphone album.