I have been casually aware of Slomo since the murky, gnarled gloom of 2008's The Bog, but apparently not familiar enough to realize that each of their infrequent releases tends to unveil a significant evolution. As a result, I slept on this 2017 release, only belatedly realizing that it was one of the year's most woefully overlooked masterpieces. With Transits, Chris McGrail and Howard Marsden shed all traces of their doom-shrouded ambient sludge past to craft a transcendently lysergic tour de force of pulsing minimalist drone brilliance. I am always hesitant to throw around Coil as a comparison for any artist, yet I am legitimately hard-pressed to think of any closer kindred album than Time Machines, as Slomo achieve a similarly singular feat of reality-blurring slow-motion wizardry that feels far more like a ritual or invocation than a mere album.
Transits consists of three distinct 20-minute pieces, which highlights an interesting trend that has unfolded over the course of Slomo's four albums: after The Bog, they began distilling their art into increasingly more concentrated doses.For example, 2012's The Grain radically broke from Slomo's proud tradition of sprawling hour-long murk-fests by taking the shape of TWO songs, one of which clocked in at a mere 25-minutes.I suspect Transits marks the apotheosis of that crawl towards concision, however, as McGrail and Marsden seem to have finally hit the perfect window: 20-minutes is long enough to be mesmerizingly immersive, yet short enough to still have a coherent and effective dynamic arc.All three pieces share some clear compositional similarities, however, as all originated as guitar and synth improvisations, which naturally leads to a slow-burning aesthetic of loop-accumulation.While all are rooted in a single, endlessly repeated motif, each motif its own unique character.For example, the opening "Concerning The Explorers" feels sleek, futuristic, and glimmering, as a lilting guitar swell languorously pulses over a deep thrum.It definitely has an elegant, pure beauty, but it also provides a fine foundation for all of the subtly hallucinatory touches that gradually emerge from the piece's increasingly frayed edges.The duo exhibit an almost supernatural patience and lightness of touch, slowly pulling apart their pristine reverie until it ultimately sounds like a snarling insectoid buzz panning and undulating above a deep, subterranean rumble.
The album's arguable highpoint is the following "Super-Individual," which takes the futurist aesthetic of "Explorers" and steers it into more menacing and dystopian territory with a slow, heavy, dense, and relentless synth throb.As far as mechanized, inhuman dread goes, it is quite a tough act to beat, as it feels like a massive iron juggernaut mercilessly inching across a scorched landscape and leaving a shuddering wake of pulsing shockwaves behind.It is also quite a brilliant bit of psychedelia, as it is impossible not to get entranced by the deep, steady throb and the escalating undercurrent of gibbering electronics, flanging drones, and simmering chaos makes it quite a richly textured and immersive world to linger in.The closing "The Dialectic," on the other hand, feels considerably less like being exterminated by an immense, malevolent robot, taking shape as a dreamy and elusively quavering single chord.Weirdly, it kind of reminds me of Tuvan throat-singing, albeit transposed to synthesizers, as the wobbling thrum of the central theme constantly feels like it is splintering into a haze of ghostly overtones.Despite some occasional disruptions from gnarled and gurgling bass drones, it is a surprisingly beautiful piece that feels like a vast, billowing cloud illuminated by eerily flickering lights.It even builds to a very cool crescendo, as it gradually starts feeding back on itself and emitting some wonderful strangled electronic snarls.
If there is any real caveat with Transits, it is only that it is a very understated and slow-burning sort of masterpiece, so it took a few listens for me to appreciate the full depth and scope of Slomo's vision.It is definitely worth putting in the time, as this is a legitimately brilliant album that fills a void that few other artists come close to filling.I am frankly amazed that two separate humans can be so perfectly and intuitively on the same wonderfully otherworldly wavelength for the entire duration of an album.McGrail and Marsden somehow manage to do absolutely everything right with Transits, taking drone into an alternately sublime, ritualistic, and heavy deep-trance state and distilling that to its absolute essence: there is no clutter here, no wasted notes, no false steps, and no lulls.Transits is three perfect doses of simmering, immersive drone nirvana.This album feels post-human in the best way possible, like some kind of cryptic transmission from the future ruins of earth in which everyone has dissolved into beams of pure light and energy or something.This is an instant classic.