Though he’s been a constant presence and distinct voice in the Rachel’s since the days before the Louisville-bred ensemble’s wondrous Quarterstick debut, Jason Noble may really stake his claim as the shining light at the group’s core on the very-limited Technology is Killing Music EP. Noble’s Neruda-influence verse sets the tone for The Sea and the Bells, and his sense of almost cinematic composition was writ large on the majestic Systems/Layers, but Technology is a much different beast — a solitary, 18-minute chamber piece and sound collage that owes less to “Full on Night” than it does Noble’s pseudo-solo experiments under the Per Mission moniker. It also, like nearly all the Rachel’s growing catalog, sounds goddamn incredible.
Culled mostly from recording sessions in Louisville and Saratoga, NY between 2001 and 2003, Technology is, largely speaking, a collection of asides and moments not fully realized on Systems/Layers, a kind of compendium of some of the finest bits that didn’t quite make the cut. But it’s also oddly more than that. Assembled tenderly and within a careful ear on computer, the disc is a seamless and engaging journey in its own right, a series of song-stories that holds together remarkably well given the apparent absence of premeditation. Beginning and ending, in cyclical fashion, with the same quartet chorale (recorded in 2001), the disc is a series of rising tides and denouements, the high points represented by achingly somber classical compositions and the low points by found sounds (crickets chirping at night, a Thailand railway station) or spare moments of musical sparks (Greg King pounding away on hand drums, an engaging little acoustic guitar sketch dubbed simply “Good Girl”).
Inside the disc, listeners will find a little shred of cartography – a handwritten diagram, not dissimilar from the one found within Godspeed You Black Emperor’s Lift Yr Skinny Fists, of the vertebrae that compose the record’s spine. It’s a testament to the musicians performing here — 17 contributors are listed, including group staples like Noble, Rachel Grimes, Christian Frederickson, and Greg King – that such disjointed elements fit together.
It’s in the transitions and the way the segments fit like puzzle pieces where the unseen hands of someone like Noble may be most apparent. Though the disc lacks the percussive thrust of Per Mission’s incredible A Ritual Loop or the spoken-word mannerisms of an old King G outing, Technology is Killing Music borrows a stream-of-consciousness manner from both documents, a way of making the listener put aside the highly constructed nature of the extended collage and just soak up the sound.
And there are sounds here clearly worth the effort exerted in saturation: the faint, trebly flirtation of chirping crickets; the subdued electronic patterns and swelling strings of the “Balcony (Edit)” section; Grimes’ soft balladry on electric piano. This is to say nothing of the full-group versions of “Balcony” or the sweeping and mournful sentiments of the “Chorale” introduction and reprise, both of which could hold their own in terms of emotive quality with Handwriting and The Sea and the Bells. It’s a great little disc, made even better by the fact that it seems to be assembled with such ease, and one that, in short, is a necessity for those as taken with Systems/Layers as they were 10 years ago with Handwriting.